Smugglers Fire Shots in Migrant Rescue Operation
People smugglers fired several shots on Monday to recover a wooden boat after the migrants it was carrying were rescued some 60 NM from Libya. The search and rescue operation was carried out by an Italian tugboat and Icelandic Coast Guard vessel Týr deployed by Frontex.
Týr, already carrying 342 migrants from an earlier rescue operation, was called to assist the tugboat in another rescue. After most of the 250 people aboard the second migrant vessel were transferred to the tugboat, a speedboat approached. Its crew fired several shots into the air and then assailants sped away with the empty migrant boat.
This is the second time this year when armed smugglers took back a vessel used to transport migrants following a rescue operation in the Central Mediterranean.
“This is a sign that smugglers in Libya are running short of boats and are more willing to use weapons to recover those used to transport the migrants,” said Fabrice Leggeri, Frontex Executive Director.
Týr and all the other vessels and aircraft taking part in the Frontex-coordinated Joint Operation Triton have been continuously assisting the Italian authorities in the rescue of around 7,500 migrants since Friday. Eleven bodies of migrants were recovered, including nine from one capsized boat. Nearly all of the operations took place between 12 and 60 NM from the Libyan coast.
The migrants rescued in recent days mainly originated from countries in the Horn of Africa, Sub Sahara and West Africa.
“Over the last few days, all vessels and aircraft involved in the Frontex-coordinated Joint Operation Triton have taken part in the rescue operations. I would like to thank the officers deployed in operation Triton for their commitment to saving lives,” said Leggeri.
About 400 migrants died in another attempt to reach Italy from Libya when their boat capsized, survivors said on Tuesday. This is the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean where the death toll from shipwrecks has surged this year.
The boat, carrying about 550 migrants in total, flipped about 24 hours after leaving the Libyan coast, according to some of the 150 survivors who were rescued and brought to a southern Italian port on Tuesday morning, Save the Children reported.
Before this incident there had already been more than 500 deaths of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa this year, up sharply from 47 in the same period of 2014, said the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The survivors of the latest shipwreck were mostly sub-Saharan Africans, but no further details were available, a Save the Children spokesman told Reuters. It was not clear exactly when the boat had capsized.
The number of boats carrying migrants aiming to reach the EU from Africa has picked up in recent weeks as fine spring weather makes the passage safer. In February, more than 300 drowned when attempting the crossing in cold weather and rough seas.
Save the Children, the IOM and other humanitarian organizations have called for the European Union to bolster its sea rescue operations before the migrant flows soar as they usually do in the summer months.
On Monday, 2,851 migrants were saved in rescue operations in the Mediterranean, the Italian coastguard said, adding to at least nine who died and 5,629 who were saved over the weekend.
Italy, which handled the largest number of migrant arrivals in the EU, has become increasingly alarmed about the breakdown of law and order in Libya, which has greatly exacerbated the task of tackling the migrant flows. Libya is home to two rival governments, loosely aligned militia forces and a growing militant Islamist movement.