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Libyan coastguard fired shots over rescue ship before forcibly returning 80 refugees

LIBYA’S EU-funded coastguard drove off search-and-rescue volunteers with gunfire before intercepting 80 refugees in international waters and forcibly returning them to the war-torn country at the weekend.

The Ocean Viking was alerted to a boat in distress in international waters by the civilian emergency hotline Alarm Phone.

“While proceeding to the distress case, the Libyan coastguard patrol vessel 656 arrived on the scene, dangerously approaching the Ocean Viking. All attempts by the bridge’s team to contact the Libyan coastguard vessel via VHF went unanswered while the crew of the Libyan coastguard patrol vessel started behaving aggressively, threatening with guns and firing gunshots in the air,” SOS Mediterranee, which charters the Ocean Viking, said.

The ship was forced to retreat and the Libyan vessel then intercepted the refugees and returned them to Libya.

The humanitarian organisation condemned “the deliberate compromising of our crew and shipwrecked people’s safety” earlier today.

“A deadly first quarter of the year has been reached with at least 410 people dead or missing in the central Mediterranean, according to the International Organisation for Migration. 

“Reports of devastating shipwrecks have recently shaken public opinion. Yet, all that can be heard now in response to the continuous loss of life in the central Mediterranean is gunshots, fired by assets financed and trained by European Union member states,” it said.

Libya has been unstable since Britain, France and the United States overthrew the Colonel Gadaffi government in 2010, and refugees trapped there have been subjected to appalling abuse — including being sold into slavery.

Last year, a militia attacked hundreds of asylum-seekers outside a former UN development centre, killing several.

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