Libyan Naval Attack on MSF Ship Complicates Refugee Rescue Efforts

Navy's 'Warning Shots' Hit Bridge of Rescue Boat

A week and a half ago, the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) boat Bourbon Argos came under attack off the coast of Libya. The boat was conducting rescue operations, looking for migrants attempting to flee across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Huge numbers of refugees have died trying to cross in non-seaworthy ships.

Though the initial reports were an :”unidentified speedboat” attacked the boat, forcing the crew to take refuge in a safe room, Libya’s unity government later confirmed the boat was part of their Navy, and that they “fired warning shots” at the boat after mistaking it for an oil smuggler. MSF noted the “warning shots” were fired directly at the ship, with bullets passing through the window of the bridge.

EU naval forces have been dispatched into the region to try to stop “people smugglers” from getting the migrants to Europe. Rescue ships, however, actually trying to prevent people from drowning instead of forcing them back to Libya, are facing an even tougher job with the prospect of naval attack.

Those involved say their ships have been in working “flat out” on rescue missions, with the people smugglers putting people to sea in more or less anything that floats. The risk of EU interception has not stemmed the flow of refugees, and the rescue vessels are finding themselves facing more and more refugees, but with more serious limits on where they can operate.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of