ROME (Reuters) - A Libyan coast guard vessel fired shots and boarded a humanitarian ship in the Mediterranean on Tuesday, demanding that the migrants on board be handed over to them, a spokesman for the Mission Lifeline charity said.
“The Libyan man said: ‘This is our territory,'” said Axel Steier, a spokesman for the German-based charity that performed its first rescues on Tuesday.
“After a while, they fired shots,” he said, probably into the air or sea. No one was wounded.
Afterward two Libyans boarded the Lifeline ship to try to persuade them to hand over some 70 migrants they had just taken off a wooden boat in international waters.
“We told them we don’t return migrants to Libya. After a while, they gave up,” Steier said. The two men spent about 15 minutes on board, he said.
A Libyan coast guard spokesman in Tripoli declined to comment, saying he was seeking information. Italy’s coast guard, which coordinates rescues, did not respond to repeated telephone calls.
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It was the latest incident reported between the Libyan coast guard and humanitarian rescue ships operating off North Africa. Financed, trained and equipped by Italy, the Tripoli-based coastguard is intercepting a growing number of migrant boats.
Last month, the Libyan coast guard ordered a Spanish rescue vessel to sail to Tripoli or risk being fired upon, though it later let it go. The worsening security situation has prompted several groups to halt rescue operations, and those who remain tend to patrol further from shore.