Libyan coastguard filmed shooting at migrant boat

Members of the German rescue group Sea-Watch filmed the incident on Wednesday

A non-profit sea rescue group on Thursday said Libya’s coastguard chased a crowded migrant boat and shot in its direction to stop it crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Members of the German organisation Sea-Watch filmed the incident on Wednesday while flying over the area on an observation mission.

“Those who shoot at refugees and try to capsize their boats are not there to save them," the group's Felix Weiss said in a statement released with the video.

"The EU must immediately end co-operation with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard."

In the footage, a blue wooden boat with a small engine and at least two dozen people on board is followed in circles, at high speed, by the Libyan coastguard.

During the chase, in an area under Malta’s responsibility, men in uniform on the Libyan vessel fired at least twice toward the boat, with bullets hitting water close to the boat.

The coastguard comes dangerously close to crashing into the boat several times.

Sea-Watch said it told the Libyan authorities by radio that they were endangering the lives of the people on the boat and urged them to stop shooting.

The Libyan coastguard replied that they were trying to rescue the migrants.

The Sea-Watch aircraft was short on fuel and turned back before the chase ended, the group said.

It later received reports that the boat had arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday morning.

There was no immediate comment on the incident from Libya, Malta or the authorities on Lampedusa.

The EU trains, equips and supports the Libyan coastguard to intercept people trying to cross the Central Mediterranean to Europe.

At least 723 people are known to have died or gone missing while taking this route on unseaworthy boats this year.

Almost 15,000 men, women and children have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and returned to Libya from the start of the year until June 26, a record number.

More than 20,000 migrants and refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe since 2014.

The Central Mediterranean stretch between Italy and Libya specifically has had sharp rises in the number of attempted crossings and deaths this year, after a lull during the height of the pandemic.

With EU support, the Libyan coastguard has increased interceptions of migrant boats.

But the UN and other rights organisations have condemned their return to the war-torn country, where many are placed in dire detention centres and are at risk of abuse and torture.

Updated: July 1st 2021, 8:25 PM