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the murky role of the Libyan Coast Guard


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                L’<em>Ocean Viking</em>, the boat of the NGO SOS Méditerranée, completed its 11th rescue mission in the central Mediterranean this week.  He arrived Tuesday at the Italian port of Augusta where the 116 people he rescued off the Mediterranean were able to disembark.  The crew carried out two interventions and one of them disturbs the role played by the Libyan security forces.
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                                    <p><em><span><span><span><span><span><span>From our special correspondent on board the</span></span></span></span></span></span></em><span><span><span><span><span><span>Ocean Viking,</span></span></span></span></span></span>

Thursday March 18 : as the day just dawned, the rescuers of theOcean Viking were all ready to go into intervention. The SOS Méditerranée boat had received an alert from the NGO Alarm Phone, an emergency telephone line for migrants in distress, and was looking for a boat possibly in great difficulty.

While research activities were in full swing, theOcean Viking receives a call on the radio. « “ Ocean Viking “, “ Ocean Viking “, “ Ocean Viking ” », calls out a voice without introducing himself. Nicola Stalla, Search and Rescue Coordinator responds. The voice then resumes : « Ne have two sick people, two sick people. The call comes from a Libyan coastal security star patrolling the area. The man evokes a small fiberglass boat, a model regularly used by Libyan fishermen, on which passengers, including patients, need, he says, to be evacuated.

The appeal per se complied with maritime procedures : l’Ocean Viking was then in international waters but in the Libyan search and rescue zone. Since June 2018, the Libyan authorities are supposed to coordinate search and rescue activities for boats in distress. Until then, this role was played by Italy, but Europe – and Rome in the leadpushed Tripoli to take control of this part of the Mediterranean. Except that according to the non-governmental organizations which provide aid to migrant boats, this transfer of skills has led to the disappearance of an authority coordinating operations in this area. The place left by Italy, they say, has never been occupied by Libya. « The Libyan Rescue Coordination Center has never been able to provide this coordination which was so effective with the Rome Maritime Rescue Center. », lamented to RFI Nicola Stalla. « Since then, it’s been a bit like working blind. »

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This request for intervention by the Libyan authorities was therefore unusual. The request came from an official authority and theOcean Viking having a medical module to take care of people declared sick, the crew launched an intervention. Eleven people were in the fiberglass boat : the women and the children suffered from vomiting, confirms the doctor of the aid ship. Passengers are therefore evacuated from their boat to be taken to theOcean Viking.

But as the intervention ended, one of them remained in the small boat and expressed his desire to return to Libya. As the boat began to take on the water, the rescuers insisted on taking it with them. But he reiterates his refusal and tries to relight the engine of his small boat to go away. His attempts remain in vain : the engine seems to be flooded. He then repeats his refusal to board the NGO boat and reassures humanitarian workers. : he will call the star of coastal safety to the rescue. The SOS Méditerranée crew therefore returned to theOcean Viking. And from the bridge, watch the Libyan boat approach the small boat : the man gets on board and the speedboat sets off again, towing the small boat behind it.

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Of the eleven passengers who were on board, ten board the SOS Méditerranée boat, but the eleventh leaves with the Libyan coast guard. © Guilhem Delteil / RFI
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    </div><span><span><span><span><span><span>Behavior questioned</span></span></span></span></span></span> <span><span><span><span><span><span>: who was this man and what connection he had with the men of coastal security</span></span></span></span></span></span> <span><span><span><span><span><span>? <em>«</em></span></span></span></span></span></span><em> I</em><span><span><span><span><span><span><em><em>l</em> was one of them.  He works for the government ”,</em> one of the people rescued told RFI.  According to several testimonies collected, the coastal security star boarded the boat fleeing Libya a few minutes before contacting the<em>Ocean Viking</em>. <em>«</em></span></span></span></span></span></span> <span><span><span><span><span><span><em>About a quarter of an hour</em></span></span></span></span></span></span> <span><span><span><span><span><span><em>»,</em> believes one of the witnesses. <em>«</em></span></span></span></span></span></span> <span><span><span><span><span><span><em>He approached us.  He was armed.  And he tells us to choose</em></span></span></span></span></span></span> <span><span><span><span><span><span><em>: </em>"</span></span></span></span></span></span> I<span><span><span><span><span><span>There is this NGO not far away.  We can take you to them and we leave with your boat.  Or we take you back to Libya</span></span></span></span></span></span> "<span><span><span><span><span><span><em>»,</em> tells another.  He assures that he has not paid money to this man but believes that the sale of the boat can bring in between <em>«</em></span></span></span></span></span></span> <span><span><span><span><span><span><em>40</em></span></span></span></span></span></span> <span><span><span><span><span><span><em>000 and 50</em></span></span></span></span></span></span> <span><span><span><span><span><span><em>000 dinars</em></span></span></span></span></span></span> <span><span><span><span><span><span><em>» </em>(between 7</span></span></span></span></span></span> <span><span><span><span><span><span>500 and 9</span></span></span></span></span></span> <span><span><span><span><span><span>500 euros).</span></span></span></span></span></span>

Two days later, a Libyan Coastal Security frigate again approached theOcean Viking and reconnects with the crew by radio. The man on the phone said he was worried about the story made on Twitter by SOS Méditerranée of the intervention the day before. He reiterates that the star has requested an intervention from theOcean Viking for some « humanitarian grounds », saying that some people were sick. But confirming part of the testimony of those rescued, he wishes to emphasize that the speedboat did not bring the boat from the coast. The man also specifies that they belong to the general administration of coastal security and not to the coast guard. Both branches are responsible for coastal surveillance but the first (GACS according to the acronym) depends on the Ministry of the Interior and the second on the Ministry of Defense.

These two agencies are supported by the European Union in the fight against illegal immigration. Brussels has set up a border assistance mission in Libya to help the Libyan authorities to control their borders, and thus illegal departures to European territory. In 2020, the two branches of Libyan coastal security intercepted 11 891 people trying to leave Libya by sea; a figure up almost 30% compared to the previous year. And according to a report procured by the NGO Statewatch, which monitors civil liberties in Europe, the EU intends to extend its border assistance mission for two more years at an estimated cost of between 67 and 70 million euros.

A project funded by the European Union and Italy recently enabled the renovation of two stars for the GACS. These stars were delivered last October. One of them is the boat that approached theOcean Viking last week. During the reception of these two stars, the director of coastal security, General Mohamed Alfituri Ahmed, had assured to have a « common objective » with the EU : « La fight against trafficking and organized crime ». But in view of the events of the past week, the goal may need to be reaffirmed.

Reread the diary of the third week on Ocean Viking

Reread the diary of the second week on Ocean Viking

► Reread the logbook of the first week on Ocean Viking

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Source site www.rfi.fr

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