LONDON: A Libyan coastguard vessel involved in the shooting of a Sicilian fisherman on May 6 was given to Tripoli by Italy to stop the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean, it has emerged.
Col. Massoud Abdalsamad of the Libyan coastguard told Italian media that the ship “fired warning shots into the air against vessels which had allegedly trespassed into Libyan waters.” Three Italian fishing boats had entered its territorial waters without permission in search of red prawns.
Giuseppe Giacalone, captain of one of the fishing boats, told Italian news agency ANSA: “It is a miracle we are alive. We were shot at. The cabin of our boat is full of holes.
“It was 2 p.m. on Thursday when it happened. While we were sailing towards the northeast, a Libyan patrol boat caught up with us and started shooting. The shots hit us and the dashboard glass shattered.”
An Italian navy vessel intervened in the skirmish, escorting the fishermen to safety and rescuing one who had been shot in the arm. The Italian navy later confirmed that the ship involved in the shooting, formerly known as the Ubari, was given to Libya in 2018.
In 2017 former Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti and the head of Libya’s UN-backed government, Fayez Al-Sarraj had signed a deal in which Italy agreed to train and equip Libyan authorities in an effort to prevent migrants and refugees traveling from North Africa to Europe.
But several agencies have warned many people who attempt to flee Libya face human-rights abuses — and have accused officials of complicity.
In April the Guardian revealed Abdalsamad had been wiretapped by Italian prosecutors investigating people-smuggling operations. In June 2017, he reportedly told Italian coastguard officials who called to ask for his help to rescue a group of migrants in distress: “It’s a day off. It’s a holiday here. But I can try to help. Perhaps, we can be there tomorrow.”
The International Organization for Migration said 126 people died in the waters of the Mediterranean that weekend.
And on April 22 this year, the Ubari allegedly ignored a distress call from a vessel before 130 asylum seekers died.
Skirmishes between Libyan authorities and Italian fishermen searching for prized red prawns have been common since the 1990s. They intensified after former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi unilaterally extended the boundary of his country’s territorial waters from 12 to 74 miles offshore in 2005.
According to the Distretto della Pesca fishing cooperative, more than 60 Italian boats have been seized or confiscated by Libya in the past 25 years, with at least 40 people detained and several injured.
In September 2020, two Sicilian fishing boats, the Antartide and the Medinea, were intercepted and escorted to Benghazi. The 18 crew members, including eight Italians, six Tunisians, two Indonesians and two Senegalese, were held for more 100 days, causing a major diplomatic incident.