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Libya: Coastguard filmed shooting at boat carrying people across Mediterranean

Footage taken by German NGO Sea-Watch shows Libyan vessel trying to ram smaller boat carrying dozens of people
Sea-Watch said the Libyan vessel was one of four boats donated by Italy to police the Mediterranean sea (Sea-Watch)

A Libyan coastguard vessel has been filmed shooting at and attempting to ram a smaller boat carrying dozens of people trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa. 

Footage posted online by German NGO Sea-Watch showed the moment the Libyan vessel fired several shots that went into the water aroud the refugees' boat.

The footage, taken on Wednesday, also showed the Libyan vessel repeatedly circling the boat, nearly hitting it several times, before throwing sticks at it. 

Volunteers from Sea-Watch who were recording the incident from a plane flying overhead on Wednesday could be heard radioing the Libyan coastguard that they were "dangerously close" to the smaller vessel. The volunteers appealed to them to keep their distance and stop shooting.

Images from Sea-Watch showed dozens of people onboard the smaller wooden vessel. 

'Immediately end co-operation'

Sea-Watch later said the Libyan vessel was one of four boats donated by Italy to police the Mediterranean - one of the world's most dangerous crossings. 

"Europe's partners of the so-called Libyan coastguard are approvingly accepting the death of people on the move," said Felix Weiss from Sea-Watch's airborne operations. 

"Those who shoot at refugees and try to capsize their boats are not there to save them. The EU must immediately end cooperation with the so-called Libyan coastguard. European states like Malta must take back responsibility for their rescue zones and fulfill their duty to rescue."

The NGO said it had to leave the scene to refuel its plane.  

It later received confirmation that the people onboard had landed safely on the Italian island of Lampedusa. 

Record numbers

Thousands of people cross the Mediterranean Sea each year in a bid to reach Europe. 

Earlier this week, 267 people were rescued by the Tunisian coastguard when they were stranded in the Mediterranean after their boat broke down. 

Nearly 15,000 men, women and children have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and returned to Libyan shores from the start of the year until to 26 June, a record number.

Since 2014, more than 20,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean. 

The European Union, in a bid to stem the flow of people crossing the sea, has given training and support to the Libyan coastguard. 

But rights groups and the UN have criticised the EU for funding a service that will return many people to Libya, where they could face detention and possible torture.