The Address | Benghazi – Libya
TRIPOLI – The presence of NGO rescue ships in the Mediterranean has declined drastically in the past few months due to political pressure from Europe. In June, NGO rescue ship ‘Astral’ was told by the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Rome to stand back and let the Libyan coast guard respond to a distress call from a migration boat, only to hear afterwards that some 100 people aboard had drowned.
“The bodies of three children under the age of five have been retrieved,” said the International Organisation for Migration’s Christine Petre in a statement. “How many missing or dead total we don’t know for now.”
The Libyan Coast Guard, despite being chronically under-equipped and poorly trained, is giving priority over rescue operations because it is the only entity who can return people to Libya. Any other vessel cannot recognize Libya as the nearest “safe port” required by maritime law, and would have to bring them to Europe instead, something which the EU is attempting to avoid.
The Libyan Coast Guard and navy have been receiving support to stop people reaching Europe. Even after massive investments by the EU, calls to the Libyan coast guard’s emergency line go unanswered. Just last month it publicly warned that its operations were at the point of collapse.