Italian prosecutors said on Wednesday (July 7) that they were seeking permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to investigate footage that allegedly showed that the Libyan Coast Guard opened fire on a migrant ship in the Mediterranean.
According to the German rescue charity Sea-Watch, if approved, the criminal investigation will be the first of its kind in Europe. The organization’s surveillance aircraft filmed the video and filed a complaint.
The image taken on June 30 appeared to show that a Libyan Coast Guard ship fired on the boat and tried to hit it, but failed to force it back to Libya.
The 64 migrants on board later landed on the small Italian island of Lampedusa.
Luigi Patronaggio, the chief prosecutor of Agrigento, Sicily, told AFP that he is investigating allegations of “attempted shipwreck”.
However, Patronaggio said that he will need “authorization from the Italian Ministry of Justice” to initiate a formal investigation, “given that the subject of the lawsuit is a foreign authority.”
“The suspected crime was committed against foreigners in international waters,” he said.
He confirmed that he was seeking authorization from the ministry to handle the case, but would not disclose how long it might take to obtain it.
Patronaggio may be approved because immigrants who can testify about the incident landed on the island of Lampedusa, which falls under the jurisdiction of Agrigento.
However, since Italy and Libya do not have a judicial cooperation agreement, any investigation will become complicated.
The Libyan authorities did not immediately respond.
“First in Europe”
Sea-Watch spokesperson Giorgia Linardi said that such an investigation would be “the first European country to investigate the Libyan Coast Guard.”
“The video speaks for itself,” she said.
“The violence suffered by migrants is unacceptable and shows the need to stop assistance to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard.”
The Italian newspaper Avvenire first reported about the potential investigation, which was released before the Italian parliament voted on the updated funding for the Libyan Coast Guard.
For years, Italy and the European Union have been providing funding, training and assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard to prevent smugglers from bringing migrants and refugees to Europe on fragile ships across the Mediterranean.
But the Coast Guard faces numerous allegations of abuse of asylum seekers, and charities and human rights organizations have also severely criticized this arrangement.
According to international maritime law, rescued persons should disembark in a safe place. The UN human rights agency stated that Libya cannot be considered a safe haven.
The number of returns has soared
The ship collided in the Sea-Watch video with the immigration ship-PB 648, Ras Jadir-was one of several patrol boats provided by Italy to Libya.
An Italian navy ship anchored in Tripoli provides technical support for the Coast Guard.
Radical Radio reporter Sergio Scandura told AFP that the incident took place near Italian waters—only 45 nautical miles from Lampedusa. His tracking of the coast guard’s boat movements had been compromised. Included in Patronaggio’s archives.
“This is the first time the Tripoli patrol boat has advanced north to hunt down migrants,” he said.
UNHCR stated that the Libyan Coast Guard sent more than 13,000 people back to Libya between January and June this year, exceeding the number of returnees for the whole of 2020.
According to data from the International Organization for Migration, nearly 900 people have lost their lives in the Mediterranean so far this year.