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A rescue nearly went wrong off the coast of Libya. Italy and Malta block their ports

(B2) The Ship Open Arms of a Spanish NGO Proactiva was attacked on Thursday (March 15) by the Libyan coast guard. While it was 73 miles from the Libyan coast, they threatened the ship " to target us unless we transfer to them the women and children we have already saved » denounces one of the members of the NGO.

Libyan coast guards on the offensive

The volunteers were carrying out the rescue of an inflatable boat, where 101 people of Eritrean nationality were on board. They had already transferred 25 women and seven children to their two rescue boats when the coast guard vessel began to carry out dangerous maneuvers, says Cristina Mas, a journalist for the Catalan daily. Search who was on board the NGO ship.

The Libyan patrol boat got dangerously close, even lowering its exterior ladder to show it was ready to capture migrants ". " If you don't give us the immigrants, we'll kill you » indicated the captain of the Libyan patrol boat to the Spanish volunteers of the NGO. The confrontation lasted more than three hours. Finally, the rescuers were able to take all the occupants of the inflatable boat on board.

Coastguard vessel 648

Apparently (when we watch the video shot by the journalists), the Libyan coast guard vessel is marked '648'. The very one who had become known for an attitude that was, to say the least, offensive towards another NGO ship, the SeaWatch 3, on November 6, 2017 (read: 5 dead off Libya. Libyan Coast Guard indicted).

A helicopter in flight

« A helicopter also flew over the area throughout the day [but] did not even respond to calls from OpenArms » they emphasize. On the EU side, however, we deny “ that no means of operation (Sophia) was involved  ". This means that it is an Italian Navy helicopter.

Without landing port?

Friday morning, the NGO ship headed north, “ waiting for instructions » as Oscar Camps, the founder of Proactiva, tells us. On board 218 people — 117 people from a previous rescue and 101 from this rescue. At noon, none European port has been assigned to them » by the Rome Emergency Coordination Center (MRCC). The on-board medical team then requested the evacuation of the most serious cases.

Baby and mother evacuated to Malta

A seriously ill, dehydrated three-month-old baby and his mother were evacuated to Malta. They were transferred at sea, according to our information, to a Maltese armed forces ship which took them into care. But the NGO still did not no port of disembarkation for other refugees on board. « It's very urgent. On board we have 216 people, and many women and children in critical situations. Everyone's on the edge ».

(updated) At the end of the day, the good news finally arrives. The ship receives a call from the Italian Coast Guard. They are authorized to enter the port of Pozzalo (Sicily) to deposit the rescued refugees there.

A call to European order

The European position remains firm, indicated a spokesperson for the Commission, joined by B2: “ It is imperative not to put the lives of migrants in danger, whatever the circumstances. We condemn any act of violence against them. All actors must act in full respect of international law and humanitarian standards »

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Updated 16.3 22:30 p.m.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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