At least 5 African migrants died and more were missing off western Libya on Monday after a boat carrying about 140 people capsized and then some migrants refused rescue by the Libyan coast guard and tried instead to swim to a German rescue vessel.
The migrants’ rubber boat overturned some 50 kilometers off the Libyan coast, said Libyan officials and rescue workers in Tripoli where the coast guard brought some 45 survivors.
A video from Libya coast guard showed how, during the rescue operation, some migrants tried jumping off the Libyan patrol boat which had rescued them to reach a ship of Seawatch, a German non-governmental organization, a few meters away.
The incident sparked mutual recrimination by Seawatch and the Libyan coast guard. Seawatch said the Libyans had tried to discourage the migrants from trying to reach the German boat. Some screamed to be allowed to leave the Libyan boat as the German vessel came closer.
Libyan coast guard commander, Abu Ajala Amer Abdelbari, said the German NGO had undermined its rescue operations by approaching its boat.
Libya is the main departure point for migrants trying to travel by boat to Europe. But numbers crossing to Italy have fallen sharply since July due to a drop in people smuggling and increased activity by Libya’s European-backed coast guard.