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Coastguard Intercepts almost 500 Migrants off Libya | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Migrants whose boat was intercepted by the Libyan coastguard in the Mediterranean arrive at a naval base in the capital Tripoli on May 10, 2017 (AFP Photo/MAHMUD TURKIA)

Libya’s coastguard on Wednesday intercepted a wooden boat packed with nearly 500 migrants after altercation with a German NGO rescue ship and coming under fire from traffickers, the navy said as it returned the migrants to Tripoli.

The migrants, who were bound for Italy, were picked up off the western city of Sabratha about 30 km north of Libya’s coast, said navy spokesman Ayoub Qassem.

The German non-governmental organization “Sea-Watch tried to disrupt the coastguard operation… inside Libyan waters and wanted to take the migrants, on the pretext that Libya wasn’t safe,” Qassem told AFP.

Sea-Watch, which has been rescuing migrants at sea since 2015, posted a video on Twitter of what it said was a Libyan coastguard vessel narrowly cutting across the bow of its ship.

“This EU-funded Libyan patrol vessel almost crashed (into) our civil rescue ship,” read the caption.

Qassem also said the coastguard had come under fire from people traffickers, without reporting any casualties.

He said the wooden boat was carrying nearly 300 Moroccans, 145 Bangladeshis, 23 Tunisians, and other migrants from elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East.

Those on board said they had left the western Libyan city of Sabratha on Tuesday night. There were about 20 women, some five of whom were being taken for medical treatment as they arrived in Tripoli. One appeared to be seriously ill.

According to international organizations, between 800,000 and one million people, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, are currently in Libya hoping to make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing to Europe.

Between 7,000 and 8,000 migrants are being held in Libyan detention centers after entering the country illegally, an immigration official said on Tuesday.