NGO 'SOS Mediterranee' with the ship Aquarius, rescuing migrants from a wooden boat in the Mediterranean | Credit: EPA/Christophe Petit Tesson
NGO 'SOS Mediterranee' with the ship Aquarius, rescuing migrants from a wooden boat in the Mediterranean | Credit: EPA/Christophe Petit Tesson

Two incidents were reported to have taken place in the Mediterranean on the weekend, involving the Libyan coast guard and NGOs. The search and rescue teams say that the Libyan coast guard is preventing them from saving lives.

Tensions between humanitarian search and rescue ships and the Libyan coast guard in the Mediterranean have escalated again. 

Two incidents were reported to have taken place at the weekend: one involving the ship Astral, with the NGO Proactiva Open Arms, and the other involving the Aquarius, with SOS Mediterranee. Both incidents occurred while the ships were attempting rescue operations to help migrants at sea. 

The Astral is currently replacing the Spanish NGO's ship that was seized by the Italian authorities. After that ship was impounded by the Catania prosecutor's office, a judge in Ragusa ordered it be "freed."

Riccardo Magi, national secretary for the Italian party, "Italian Radicals" and an MP with the Italian party "+Europa" was aboard the Astral. He said that on Sunday a Libyan patrol boat "came close to the Astral, asked us if we had migrants aboard and how many, and when we said no, they ordered us to leave saying, "this is a job that we're supposed to do. The Libyans act like pirates in international waters, demanding that their authority be recognized. They are acting outside of the law and they are doing it with vessels provided by the Italian government."

Tensions in the Mediterranean 

On May 6, the Open Arms' ship rescued 105 people from a deflated rubber dinghy, including women and children. According to Magi, the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome sounded an alert at 5 a.m. requesting all ships in the area to come to the aid of a sinking boat. Immediately afterwards, the center announced that the Libyan coast guard had taken over control of the operation.

"Today, after the signal, we called the Libyan coast guard several times, but we never received a response," Magi said. "Therefore, we advised the Rome Center that we would be heading to the area to check the situation, given that the information available to us was that the rubber dinghy with migrants was without an engine and had deflated. Only at the end of the intervention did the Libyan coast guard contact us to let us know how the operation had gone," he said. 

Incidents involving SOS Mediterranee and Sea Watch 

Another case was reported on May 6 by SOS Mediterranee involving its ship, Aquarius, in the Strait of Sicily. It said the ship observed the Libyan coast guard intercept a rubber dinghy off the coast of Tripoli. 

"Despite the fact that there were more people in the water, our offers of assistance were repeatedly ignored. We were instead ordered to move away," a spokesperson from the NGO said.

A similar story was reported by another NGO working in search and rescue in the Mediterranean, Sea Watch. It said that on May 5, 37 migrants were in need of help about 15 miles off the Libyan coast. It described the events that followed as "chaotic," and reported that "two rubber dinghies were illegally taken by the so-called Libyan coast guard," adding that its civilian rescue workers were told to leave. 

"We are asking for the right to save lives," Sea Watch said. 

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