Libya navy deny charges on mi­grant boat at­tack

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Libyan naval forces de­nied charges from a res­cue or­ga­ni­za­tion that one of their crew had at­tacked a mi­grant boat packed with around 150 peo­ple, caus­ing some to fall into the sea and at least four to drown, a spokesman said. Some re­ports said that with the miss­ing the death toll could rise into the 20s. The Ger­many-based hu­man­i­tar­ian group Sea-Watch said on Fri­day a speed­boat la­beled “Libyan Coast Guard” at­tacked a mi­grant boat packed with some 150 mi­grants, beat­ing them with sticks. Four bod­ies were later re­cov­ered.

Mi­grant res­cues are of­ten com­pli­cated in Libya, where the UN-backed Tripoli govern­ment strug­gles to im­pose its author­ity, coast guard op­er­a­tions are un­der-equipt and po­lice units are run by some of the com­pet­ing armed bri­gades. Sea-Watch, one of sev­eral non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions op­er­at­ing ves­sels off the coast of Libya, said the speed­boat swooped in just as they were about to go to the aid of the over­crowded rub­ber boat in the early hours of Fri­day.

The spokesman for the naval forces in Tripoli, Ay­oub Qassem de­nied the al­le­ga­tions about an armed at­tack on the Sea-Watch op­er­a­tion and said a pa­trol had only boarded one ves­sel to check why it was in Libyan wa­ters. “The crew al­leged that we at­tacked them and a num­ber of ca­su­al­ties have been re­ported but this is not true at all and we call on them to prove this in­ci­dent if they are right,” he said. Qassem said at around 2:30 am on Fri­day, the coast guard of the western re­gion of Libya spot­ted three ves­sels off the coast. The pa­trol com­man­der boarded the ves­sel and found Sea-Watch was in­volved.

“The com­man­der asked them why they are in the Libyan wa­ters but the crew of the or­ga­ni­za­tion did not an­swer log­i­cally. The crew was asked to leave,” he said. “It’s a breach and dis­re­spect to Libyan sovereignty ac­cord­ing to in­ter­na­tional rules and norms.” Sea-Watch said the vi­o­lent in­ter­ven­tion caused mass panic on­board the rub­ber boat in dis­tress. One of the tube of the boat col­lapsed and caused the ma­jor­ity of the 150 peo­ple on­board to slip into the wa­ter.

The Sea-Watch crew re­cov­ered four bod­ies, spokesman Ruben Neuge­bauer told Reuters. They brought about 120 oth­ers safely onto their ship and trans­ferred them to an oil tanker from which they were later moved to an­other res­cue ship bound for Italy. The in­ci­dent hap­pened be­fore the planned start of train­ing next week of up to 100 Libyan coast guard mem­bers as part of the EU mis­sion Op­er­a­tion Sophia. A spokesman for Sophia had no comment on whether it would af­fect the pro­gram.

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