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GNA commander disciplined over bungled migrant rescue, leaked EU documents show

The Address | Benghazi – Libya

TRIPOLI – A Libyan coastguard commander of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) has been disciplined after a bungled rescue operation in the Mediterranean in which 20 migrants are feared to have died, leaked European Union documents show.

A report on the November 6, 2017, operation to rescue some 130 people from a flimsy raft highlighted poor professionalism of the frontline GNA commanders for migrant rescue operations off Libya’s coast, according to documents secured by the website Politico.

The bungled mission focused attention on the deal struck between Italy and Libya in 2017 to pass responsibility to Tripoli to target people traffickers in the Mediterranean and rescue stricken migrants from its territorial waters.

The censured commander was in charge of a patrol boat that arrived at high-speed when the raft started sinking off the coast of Libya in November 2017. Witnesses reported that the patrol boat caused a bow wave that sent many people into the water.

The head of Operation Sophia, the EU naval mission in the Mediterranean tackling human trafficking and rescues, took up the matter nine days later with the head of the Libyan coastguard agency, Commodore Toumia, at a meeting in Tunis, according to the documents.

The Libyan coastguard chief “recognized that in some cases the professional behavior of his commanding officers is not adequate and that there is a strong need to continue the training”, the report said.

Commodore Toumia confirmed three months later that his commanders had learned lessons so a similar incident would not happen again. He also said “that in one specific case disciplinary measures had been taken against one Patrol Boat Commander”, according to the report, but with no further details.

The EU has provided naval support and training to the ill-equipped Libyan coastguard to carry out operations close to its shores.

Although the policy has contributed to migrant arrivals falling by 85 per cent in 2018 compared to 2015, the proportion of those who have died making the crossing has risen, UN figures show.

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