Sicilian prosecutors have launched a probe into allegations of “attempted shipwreck” by Libyan coastguard after a video footage appearing to show the Libyan coastguard firing on a boat carrying migrant families in distress in the Mediterranean Sea has emerged.
Rescue workers from the German organisation Sea-Watch on June 30 recorded the Libyan coastguard apparently trying to ram a small wooden boat and firing shots in an attempt to force the people onboard back to Libya.
Prosecutors in Agrigento on Friday said that after receiving a complaint from Sea-Watch, they decided to investigate the Libyan officials for attempted shipwreck, and will look at whether the incident put the lives of the migrants in danger.
This is the first time a European country has launched an investigation against the Libyan coastguard, who have faced numerous accusations of alleged collusion with people smugglers and of mistreating asylum seekers.
The investigation, which was first reported by the Italian newspaper Avvenire, was confirmed by Agrigento’s chief prosector, Luigi Patronaggio, who said that to continue the investigation he needed “authorisation from the Italian ministry of justice, given that the object of the proceeding is a foreign authority”.
The decision is likely to cause a stir as the vessel involved in the video – named PB 648, RasJadir – is one of four patrol boats Italy originally supplied to Libya.
In February 2017, Europe had ceded responsibility for overseeing Mediterranean rescue operations to Libya as part of a deal between Italy and Libya aimed at reducing migrant arrivals on European shores.
Under the terms of the deal, Italy agreed to train, equip and finance the Libyan coastguard, by supplying Tripoli with four patrol boats. The Libyan coastguard, which has dismissed any allegations of violence in the past, said in a statement they would look into the matter.
In April, a Guardian investigation revealed the apparent indifference of the Libyan authorities to international law, and exposed their uncooperative behaviour and alleged failure to answer distress phone calls.
More than 800 people have died so far in 2021 while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, according to the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project. (Source: The Guardian)