By Libya Herald reporter.
Tunis, 16 August 2017:
A ship belonging to Spanish migrant rescue organisation Proactiva Open Arms was arrested by the Libyan coastguard and detained for two hours on Tuesday.
The ship, Golfo Azzuro, is involved in rescuing migrants who attempt the journey from Libya to Malta and Italy. It was intercepted by the Libyan coastguard some 45 kilometres off the Libyan coast and ordered to sail towards Tripoli under threat of fire.
The ships was ordered to sail to Tripoli. “If you don’t follow the orders we will target you,” the Libyan coastguard reportedly told the ship over the radio.
The seizure came a few hours after the far right-wing organization Defend Europe took to Twitter, saying it had been observing Golfo Azzuro and the Spanish vessel had displayed some “suspicious” activity. Defend Europe, which claims to fight human trafficking and prevent migrants going to Europe, tweeted that Golfo Azzuro had also turned off its transponder.
If the Spanish boat did turn off the transponder, it would be violating the Italian migrant code of conduct drafted earlier this month. Transponders are required so authorities can determine a boat’s location. In the past, some NGOs had been accused of using phones and other signals to communicate with traffickers operating in the Mediterranean.
The Golfo Azzuro and her crew have come into conflict with both the Libyan and Italian authorities before. Last week, the Libyan coastguard fired shots in the air close to the ship to warn it that it was being watched and under suspicion of collaborating with traffickers.
In early August, the Golfo Azzuro was denied access to the Italian port in Lampedusa and the Italians claimed it had violated the code of conduct.
Various migrant rescue NGOs, such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Save the Children and Sea Eye have suspended their operations in the Mediterranean after Italian and Libyan authorities decided to crack down on the flow of migrants.