Libyan Patrol Boat Threatens Rescue Crew and People in Distress at Sea

Menschen im Wasser zwischen hohen Wellen
Alessio Cassaro / SOS Humanity

Berlin, 4 March 2024. On Saturday, 2 March, the crew of the non-governmental rescue ship Humanity 1 was threatened several times by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard in the central Mediterranean. The people in distress at sea were also threatened at gunpoint as the crew tried to rescue them in international waters. On Saturday afternoon, the crew of the German-flagged Humanity 1 was able to rescue a total of 77 people from three boats in distress, despite the violent and unlawful intervention of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. Numerous people jumped into the water in panic and the so-called Libyan Coast Guard fired a shot into the water. According to the survivors, one person was left behind by the Libyan patrol boat and most likely drowned.

“It is unbelievable to see how this so-called coast guard, financed by the EU and Italy, is breaking the law and brutally endangering human lives. This support led to at least one person drowning on Saturday, endangering numerous people and forcing around twenty people back to Libya in violation of international law. The patrol boat that interrupted our rescue operation by force of arms was apparently one of the two ships that were financed and delivered by the EU in the second half of 2023,” says Laura Gorriahn, president of SOS Humanity, who is on board as a volunteer human rights observer during the rescue operation. “As a migration researcher, I am aware of the violations of international law in the central Mediterranean that are being promoted by the EU as part of its inhumane closed-door policy, both in theory and from reports. Witnessing this in person has shocked me to the core.”

The Humanity 1 was initially assigned the distant port of Bari as place of safety to disembark the 77 survivors by the Italian authorities, who had been kept fully informed of the events by the captain of the Humanity 1. As a storm was forecast on the route and the captain repeatedly asked for a closer port due to safety risks for the ship, the survivors and the crew, the closer port of Crotone was finally assigned on Sunday evening. International maritime law prescribes the fastest possible disembarkation at a place of safety for people rescued from distress at sea.

“SOS Humanity demands that the funding, training and equipping of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard by the European Union and Italy be stopped immediately. It is outrageous that European citizens’ taxes are being used to support an actor that threatens and shoots at people in distress as well as those helping them. We appeal to the EU member states to finally set up an EU sea rescue programme in the central Mediterranean that ensures compliance with maritime law and human rights – as promised by the German government in its coalition agreement,” says Laura Gorriahn from SOS Humanity.

The crew of Humanity 1 has documented the offences and breaches of the law that were witnessed and compiled them here for the media (photos, videos, audio, documents). We will publish the detailed chronology of events later today in our mission report on the website.

Menschen im Wasser zwischen hohen Wellen
Alessio Cassaro / SOS Humanity
Overview of Saturday's Events
The first threat

to the crew of the Humanity 1 took place at midday on Saturday in international waters off Tunisia. The crew of Humanity 1 witnessed an illegal pull-back by a Corrubia patrol boat of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard from a distance of around five kilometres. The reconnaissance aircraft Seabird 2 (Sea-Watch) had reported that around ten people were in the water. The rescue ship Humanity 1 repeatedly offered assistance and made it clear to the so-called Libyan coast guard that returning the people in distress to Libya would violate international law, as was recently confirmed once again by a court in Italy. The crew of the Humanity 1 was threatened with fire by the Libyan patrol boat over the radio and ordered to leave the area. Due to the acute threat of armed violence, the ship Humanity 1 left the scene.

The second threat

occurred a little later in the afternoon after a boat in distress was reported to the crew. When the rescue vessel arrived, the crew discovered two other boats in distress in close proximity to each other. After the crew had already started the rescue operation, the same Libyan patrol boat of the Corrubia type joined them and severely disrupted the rescue operation. When a small speedboat of the so-called Libyan coast guard approached with a machine gun, the people panicked and many jumped into the water or fell overboard during the dangerous manoeuvres of the patrol boat. In this situation, the so-called Libyan coast guard fired a shot into the water, between the people in the waves and the Humanity 1 fast rescue boats (RHIBs). The civilian reconnaissance aircraft Seabird 2 witnessed this situation from the air. Despite the chaotic situation, the SOS Humanity rescue team managed to transfer a total of 77 people from the three boats to the mother ship. They reported that at least one person had been left in the water by the so-called Libyan coast guard. It can therefore be assumed that at least one person drowned. The 77 survivors, including some minors, were severely hypothermic but uninjured.

A detailed chronology of the events will be published on the SOS Humanity website on Monday. Documentary material on the events described will be made available at the following link.

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