The Libyan Coast Guard, between lack of means and serious accusations


Libyan Coast Guard members complain about the lack of European logistical support and reject reports of abuse

The death in early July of 53 migrants due to an air attack on a detention center in Tripoli has reopened the debate on European border outsourcing policy: the majority of those killed were held there after being intercepted by the Coast Guard of Libya, formed and funded by Europe and heavily criticized by the UN. Commander Nasser al Gamudi, in front of one of the ships of the Coast Guard Corps of the North African country, answers the phone and tries to expose his point of view – “so that the truth arrives in Brussels” -. Summarize the situation they suffer: “We put our lives in danger. And nobody gives a shit in Europe. ”

Al Gamudi speaks good English and the boat he commands, Sabratah, is one of the six ceded by Italy to the Tripoli Government to intercept and rescue migrants. He has also participated in two training courses organized by the EU, part of the controversial agreements with Libya, led by Italy, to tackle migration in the Mediterranean. “They were very basic and disorganized courses. A waste of time and money, ”he says. It defines the situation of the Coast Guard as “frustrating” because they work “hard” and do not receive “any logistical support” from the EU.

When asked about the relationship with European rescue NGOs, he replies that he remembers drawing attention with bursts into the air to ships entering Libyan territorial waters. “Because it is illegal,” he says. “Today I regret it,” he says. “Since the NGOs began to disappear from the Mediterranean, it is very frequent that when we receive a rescue notice and come, we arrive too late. We found the boats sinking and the people dying. NGOs should help. We are not able to do the job alone. We have almost no means. ” In his opinion, the time has come for NGOs to go to Libya and discuss this issue with them, and with other actors, such as Italians, Spaniards and the battered Operation Sophia of the EU. “The situation is very delicate.”

We met Al Gamudi on a rough sea day last winter at the naval base of Tripoli. Two days before he had made his last “rescue.” Two people died of hypothermia. One, according to its version, had already died when they found it; the other expired on his ship. With scarce means and a meager budget, sometimes, he said, they had been forced to protect migrants from the cold with body covers. In the port of Tripoli, the Libyan coastguards have three of the vessels ceded by Italy; the other three are divided between Misrata and Zauia. They are ships of the eighties already amortized by the Italian Guardia Di Finanza with which they monitor about 600 kilometers of coasts.


The ships were not adapted for rescue operations. They measure about 30 meters in length. “Sometimes, we have 500 people ahead,” Al Gamudi said on that visit. “And we can only go up to 300, 400 at most.” To which is added that none of the rescued wants to be rescued: they know that it is the end of their dream. “I risk my life for 200 dollars  per month.” When questioned about the complaints of NGOs and international organizations towards their work, he said that in his ship no migrant has suffered abuse.

To save fuel, they no longer patrolled. The Coast Guard waited for the call of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center of Rome, which in turn coordinates with a ship of the Italian Navy, docked in Tripoli, and this with the Libyan sailors. Nasser invited to board his ship and showed the empty refrigerators: “In the news you see that a lot of money comes from the EU, but we have nothing tangible. Cooperation is going a little slow. ” A few weeks ago, by phone, it is more blunt: “We are tired of the relationship with the Italians. They are unprofessional. ”

In January, the commander of the Naval Base in Tripoli, Anwar Sherif, defended another vision of things. “All rescue operations have been dangerous for our team, and for ships,” he argued. “These were not designed to carry out rescues. That is why they accuse us that the operations are not safe. We need to send a message to our partners in Europe: we will not continue exposing our members to such risks to infinity. We are ready to offer new solutions if they give us more technical and logistical support. ” “We are not responsible for solving the problems of the Italian Government or any other. We don’t work for other countries, we only do humanitarian work, it should be cooperative work, ”he added. In his opinion, the Italian bolt, and the lack of collaboration, could cause “a humanitarian catastrophe.”

He conceded that NGOs had rescued thousands of people, but added: “When immigrants see that there is a Libyan ship and an NGO a few meters away, they see Europe inside that ship, they don’t want to be intercepted by the Libyan navy, they jump into the water to reach the NGO and they don’t know how to swim. It generates a conflict and there is a lack of coordination. ”

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