A Libyan coastguard vessel was reportedly shot at from the shore by people-smugglers, as it intercepted 700 migrants off Sabratha, in western Libya, near the Tunisian border.
Naval spokesperson Colonel Ayoub Qassem told AFP that as the coastguard vessel closed in on the two wooden vessels on to which the migrants had been crammed, it came under fire from people-smugglers on the beach, it was reported on Monday.
The coastguard returned fire causing the smugglers to flee. There were no reports of casualties among either the coastguards or the sub-Saharan migrants aboard the smuggling vessels.
Libya has been the point of departure for most of the tens of thousands of African refugees who flee to Europe, Italy being the arrival point for those desperately seeking a better life.
The Italian coast guard has rescued thousands of refugees over the last few years as the notoriously overcrowded vessels, often in poor condition, used by the smugglers regularly capsize and sink.
Hundreds more refugees have lost their lives during the sea voyage. The situation has become so desperate that the Italians have travelled to Libya to try and work out with the Libyan authorities ways to stem the flow from the north African country before the migrants even attempt to reach Italy.
Furthermore, the Libya Herald reported that the relationship between the Libyan coastguard and the smugglers has at times appeared ambiguous.
Last October a vessel with coastguard markings was filmed from a rescue ship attacking a raft with migrants and apparently trying to seize its outboard motor.
Panicking migrants capsized their craft and as many as 20 may have drowned. However, the navy denied that one of their vessels had been involved.
Further collusion between the people smugglers and the coastguard included one incident last May when the smugglers alerted the coastguard to a migrant vessel sinking.
Meanwhile, as vulnerable refugees continue to lose their lives off Libya’s coast, some of the country’s most vulnerable battle to receive basic medical care on the main land.
Tripoli’s Al Jalaa Hospital, the largest state maternity hospital in western Libya, is so broke it has only managed to keep its emergency power generators working thanks to an anonymous donation of fuel, the Herald reported.
Two thousand patients, mostly low-income earners, are treated by the hospital every month. Wealthier Libyans avoid the hospital due to its plummeting standards of health care amid reports of unhygienic practices.
Due to the funding shortages, the hospital has been unable to pay all of its nurses and is desperately in need of a new post-natal unit, and laboratory and dialysis equipment. The possibility of it being forced to close remains a reality.