(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
A Libyan navy vessel fired shots at a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) rescue boat earlier this month after assuming that the MSF boat was smuggling oil, said a spokesperson on Tuesday.
MSF reported that on August 17 a group of unidentified armed men shot at and invaded MSF’s boat called the Bourbon Argos, which has been used for rescue missions between Libya and Europe.
The Bourbon Argos was patrolling the area at about 24 nautical miles from Libya’s shores. The armed men were on board for close to an hour as the MSF crew hid in a secured room. No migrants were on the boat at the time, said MSF.
Ayoub Qassem, spokesperson for the Libyan navy, said the Bourbon Argos did not respond to calls made by the navy patrol boat and that MSF was changing routes.
Qassem said, “The boat was spotted in international waters and it’s known to be an oil smuggling route, so that’s why our coastal guards had to intercept it but the crew tried to flee to the north.”
“The guards shot in the air to warn them but because our boat is small and was swaying due to heavy waves there might have been a hit to their boat. I confirm that it was not directly targeted.”
MSF refutes the claims of any calls being made saying no “clear identification and communication or any radio answer” from the Libyan navy patrol boat. MSF only found out that it was the Libyan navy that shot at and boarded the Bourbon Argos 10 days later when Libyan media covered the story.
“MSF is currently engaging with the Libyan authorities in order to clarify what happened exactly during the incident and to ensure that similar events, that can put people in physical danger, do not occur in the future,” said MSF in a statement released on Saturday
Qassem explained that the incident took place close to the towns of Sabratha and Zuwara, where many boats recently took off. It is also an area known to be used by fuel smugglers.
The European Union is training the Libyan coastguard and navy on how to intercept boats before they reach international waters in order to force refugees back to Libya. These efforts will transfer the responsibility of taking care of refugees from strong, safe and developed European countries to a war-torn, chaotic, and undeveloped Libya.