Video: Libyan Coast Guard Shoots at Maritime Migrants

Courtesy Sea-Watch

Published Jul 1, 2021 7:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Libyan Coast Guard is well-known for returning maritime migrants to the confines of Libya's notorious detention system, where violence is so pervasive that even the war-zone medical aid group MSF will not enter. Now, according to the migration NGO Sea-Watch International, Libya's maritime security forces are using more violence to accomplish their mission of intercepting overloaded migrant boats.

On Wednesday, Sea-Watch's aircrew spotted a Libyan-operated patrol boat interacting with a migrant vessel within the Maltese SAR coordination zone. The video appears to show that the boat's crew fired shots in the direction of the boat. It also appears that the vessel attempted to create a close-quarters situation, and it nearly rammed the smaller boat several times. The crew was also filmed throwing objects at the migrant vessel's occupants. 

Sea-Watch identified the patrol boat as the Italian-supplied vessel Ras Jadir, which was donated to Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) in early 2017. 

It is not the first time that Ras Jadir's crew has courted controversy. On November 6, 2017 - about six months after the Italian government donated the boat to the Libyan Coast Guard - Ras Jadir approached a sinking migrant raft about 30 nm off the coast of Libya. A Sea-Watch rescue vessel, Sea-Watch 3, was on scene as well. Her rescue RHIB teams deployed in an attempt to pull migrants from the water, and other members of the crew filmed the encounter. Video shows that the Ras Jadir's crew discouraged this lifesaving effort by throwing objects at the RHIBs; in the ensuing melee, an estimated 50 people drowned.

According to Amnesty, Libyan Coast Guard officials are known to operate in collusion with human smuggling networks, as do many of their counterparts in shoreside Libyan law enforcement and migration management. 

In 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights alleged that European Union support for Libya's Coast Guard is "inhuman" because it results in thousands of people being subjected to “unimaginable horrors” in Libyan detention centers. The circumstances may be worsening: last month, MSF reported the use of automatic weapons against detainees at the Abu Salim detention center, resulting in multiple casualties, and severe violence against occupants of the center at Mabani. The organization announced that it would suspend service at the facilities due to the risk to its staff. 

According to MSF, the spike in detention center violence parallels a sharp uptick in the number of intercept-and-return operations carried out by the Libyan Coast Guard. With support from European nations, the agency has interdicted about 14,000 outbound migrants since the start of the year - more than the total it achieved during the entirety of 2020. This success at sea has resulted in severe overcrowding and worsening conditions at facilities on shore, MSF reported.