Libyan maritime officials have now acknowledged that a Libyan coast guard vessel had fired warning shots at a migrant boat.
The vessel was chasing the boat in the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday June 30, in an apparent effort to try to stop the migrants from crossing into Europe.
On Thursday, German NGO Sea-Watch released footage filmed from a plane showing the Libyan coast guard chasing a blue wooden boat with a small engine at high speed. The boat had at least two dozen people onboard.
"It's becoming just way more dangerous. When people are crossing the Maltese search and rescue area, they have been on the water for at least 1.5, 2 days. So they are exhausted, they are dehydrated. So these maneuvers that we have seen yesterday could easily kill a person, like easily. It's just really wondering, everyone of us, how no one has died yesterday", said Felix Weiss, Head of Sea-Watch's Airborne Operations.
During the chase, which occurred in international waters in Malta’s search and rescue responsibility zone, men in uniform aboard the Libyan vessel could be seen firing at least two times toward the boat, with bullets hitting the water nearby. The Libyan coast guard came close to crashing into the boat several times.
Late Thursday, the Libyan navy issued a statement condemning the act. It said the Libyan vessel had endangered the lives of migrants during the chase, vowing to hold those responsible to account.
On Friday, EU Commission spokesman Peter Stano deplored the incident as “a cause of concern.” He added that the commission had already asked for explanations from the Libyan government.
The EU trains, equips and supports the Libyan coast guard to intercept people trying to cross the Central Mediterranean to Europe.
At least 723 people are known to have either died or gone missing taking this route on unseaworthy boats so far this year.
Nearly 15,000 men, women and children have been intercepted by the Libyan coast guard. They were subsequenyly returned to Libyan shores from the start of the year up to June 26, a record number.