Published: Mon, August 14, 2017
World | By Carl Welch

German NGO halts migrant rescue operations off Libya

German NGO halts migrant rescue operations off Libya

"Under these circumstances, a continuation of our rescue work is not now possible".

A spokesman for the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean's Operation Sophia said the distress call was flagged to Sea Eye, a German volunteer rescue organisation whose vessel is now nearest to C-Star.

The announcement came a day after a similar decision was made by Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF. The group added that Libyan authorities declared their own rescue area, extending into worldwide waters, the same day.

"The Sea-eye is now on the way to the C-Star".

Nearly 600,000 migrants have arrived in Italy over the past four years, the vast majority setting sail from lawless Libya in flimsy vessels operated by people smugglers. The Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre in Rome deployed a rescue ship to help it in global waters between Tunisia and Libya.

This was what set off a signal to other boats in the nearby area, but not asking for help, he said.

MSF said its medical support team would still assist in rescues aboard the SOS Méditerranée-run boat Aquarius, which is now patrolling in worldwide waters.

On Saturday, the Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF) global humanitarian group also announced the suspension of the search and rescue activity of its biggest ship in the Mediterranean, the Prudence, because of "increasingly hostile environment for lifesaving rescue operations".

Italian officials told Sea-Eye, a German nongovernmental organization (NGO) that operates rescue ships in the Mediterranean, that Defend Europe's vessel "had suffered a mechanical failure and could not manoeuvre", according to the report.

Libya was trying to increase the range of the waters its ships controlled from 12 nautical miles around its coast to 70 nautical miles, the humanitarian organisation said.

Tensions have risen since the Libyan navy on Thursday ordered foreign vessels to stay out of a coastal search-and-rescue zone, a measure it said was specifically aimed at non-governmental groups.

The Italian government agreed last month to dispatch a naval mission to assist the Libyan coast guard with anti-smuggler patrols. As of August 9, at least 2,242 migrants had died this year attempting the Central Mediterranean crossing, according to its estimates.

Humanitarian groups have had ships monitoring the Mediterranean Sea outside of Libya's territorial waters to help rescue migrants from smugglers' boats in distress.

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