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Libya Attacks Humanitarians Mistaken for Oil Smugglers

Patrol ship

The Libyan navy on 17 August fired shots against a rescue boat run by Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF), which they mistook for oil smugglers, according to the Libyan Gazette on Wednesday.

“The boat was spotted in international waters and it’s known to be an oil smuggling route, so that’s why our coastal guards had to intercept it but the crew tried to flee to the north,” said Libya navy spokesperson Ayoub Qassem on Tuesday.

Qassem claimed a naval patrol boat issued a call to the crew of the MSF’s boat, the Bourbon Argos, but no response was given. In addition, he noted that the boat used for MSF rescue missions between Libya and Europe was changing routes when the navy intercepted it.

“The guards shot in the air to warn them but because our boat is small and was swaying due to heavy waves there might have been a hit to their boat. I confirm that it was not directly targeted,” Qassem mentioned.

An MSF statement issued on 20 August alleged that the humanitarian group was unaware of the Bourbon Argos being shot at and boarded until it was mentioned ten days later in the Libyan press.

MSF alleged the Bourbon Argos was some twenty-four nautical miles from the Libyan coast when it received gunfire and was subsequently boarded by armed men for approximately an hour. No migrants were on the vessel at the time of the incident, MSF noted.

“MSF is currently engaging with the Libyan authorities in order to clarify what happened exactly during the incident and to ensure that similar events, that can put people in physical danger, do not occur in the future,” the group’s communiqué read.

According to The Wall Street Journal last March, officials in Libya and Western nations have attempted to crackdown on oil smuggling from the North African state. They believe eliminating routes used for the smuggling of oil can also hurt human trafficking networks that transport migrants from Libya to European countries.

By Erwin Cifuentes for Oilprice.com

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