Four migrant smugglers armed with Kalashnikov guns threatened one of the Italian coastguard’s motorboats involved in Sunday rescue operations of around 2,200 Libyan migrants trying to reach Europe, the BBC reports.
The four armed smugglers arrived in a speedboat from Libya and ordered the coastguard to release the boat that one group of migrants used to attempt the crossing. Three of four smugglers then boarded the boat and took off towards Libya. The incident happened some 50 miles (80km) off the coast of Libya.
Last week, more than 300 migrants died when their dinghies got caught in freezing weather and rough seas. 29 migrants died of hypothermia while heading to Italy on board Italian coastguard’s motorboats.
The Mayor of the Italian island of Lampedusa Giusi Nicolini blamed the termination of the Mare Nostrum project for the deaths of the migrants found on the dinghies. The project ban disallowed Italy’s Navy ships from participating in search-and-rescue missions and from keeping large numbers of migrants on board.
UNHCR has also warned that Europe’s Triton operation, which is run by the European border protection agency Frontex, is not focused on search and rescue and is not providing the necessary tools to cope with the scale of the crises. Saving lives must be a priority for the European Union, UNHCR says.
More than 3,500 people died and more than 200,000 were rescued in 2014 while trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean, according to UNHCR.
World Maritime News Staff