CAIRO (AP) — A Libyan coast guard boat rammed into a dingy carrying some 50 migrants just off Libya's coast on Friday, partially sinking the vessel. Many of those onboard were thrown into the Mediterranean Sea and had to swim to another Libyan ship nearby for safety, a rescue group said.
It appeared to be the latest reckless sea interception of migrants by the Libyan coast guard, which is trained and financed by the European Union to stem the influx of migrants to Europe. Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
The German sea rescue group Sea-Watch released a video appearing to show the Libyan coast guard boat nearing the dinghy, after which most of those on the vessel fall into the water. Sea-Watch said the Libyan coast guard then took the migrants aboard another ship, a coast guard frigate.
There were no immediate reports of any fatalities or of anyone missing.
Sea-Watch, which carries out rescue operations in the central Mediterranean, said the coast guard was chasing the rubber dingy since early Friday morning before slamming into its side.
From their twin-engine Seabird, Sea-Watch rescuers had repeatedly called on the Libyan coast guard to stop chasing the dingy, they said.
The Sea-Watch video, filmed from the Seabird, shows the migrants who were plunged into the sea swimming towards the nearby frigate and sailors throwing buoyance vests to them.
Those who remained on the sinking dingy were pulled towards the frigate and were also taken on board. A spokesmen from Libyan coast guard did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sea-Watch spokesperson Felix Wiess told The Associated Press by phone that the incident took place roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Libya's western city of Zuwara.
A civilian rescue ship Louise Michel arrived at the scene shortly afterward and asked to take the migrants, which the coast guard denied.
Since 2015, the EU has been funding the Libyan coast guard as part of efforts to stem the flow of migrants from the North African country towards Italian shores.
Another rescue group, SOS Mediterranee, said in March that the Libyan coast guard fired warning shots at it as it attempted to rescue migrants from a packed ship. In October 2022, Sea-Watch said the coast guard threatened to shoot down its plane used to monitor the sea for smugglers and migrant vessels.
Oil-rich Libya plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Human traffickers have benefited from the chaos in the North African country, smuggling migrants across Libya's vast borders, bringing them to the coast and packing them into ill-equipped rubber boats and other vessels that then set off on risky sea voyages.
Over recent months, rescue groups say Italy's hard-line government headed by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has made it harder for humanitarian vessels to operate. They say the government often assigns their ships to ports further north after a single rescue, which the groups say limits their ability to save lives.
Follow AP’s coverage of global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration