Another ship suspends migrant rescues citing Libyan threats

The anti-migrant C Star boat has endured a wretched time in the Mediterranean. AFP  Angelos Tzortzinis

The government also has pressured rescue groups to sign on to rules that would forbid them from entering Libyan waters to save migrants without specific authorization and require them to agree that armed Italian judicial authorities may board their ships.

On Saturday, the Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF) worldwide humanitarian group also announced the suspension of the search and rescue activity of its biggest ship in the Mediterranean, the Prudence, because of "increasingly hostile environment for lifesaving rescue operations".

"Under these circumstances, a continuation of our rescue work is not now possible".

In a statement, Sea Eye said it was with "a heavy heart" that it had chose to follow suit after the Libyan government's "explicit threat against the private NGOs".

MSF said Libyan authorities had announced the establishment of a search and rescue zone on Friday, and restricted access to humanitarian vessels into the worldwide waters off the Libyan coast.

The announcement comes a day after Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it was halting the use of its largest boat in the area because of an "increasingly hostile environment for lifesaving rescue operations".

The route from Libya to Italy is the most popular among irregular migrants.

MSF said Saturday that it had been warned there was a security risk by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome.

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MSF said its medical support team would still assist in rescues aboard the SOS Méditerranée-run boat Aquarius, which is now patrolling in worldwide waters.

Defend Europe previously accused Sea-Eye, and other groups, of "colluding" with Libyan human traffickers.

The Libyan government "is ready to put in place a search and rescue zone in its waters, work with Europe and invest in its coastguards", Alfano told La Stampa daily on Sunday.

Sea Eye said it has helped save some 12,000 lives since April 2016, and cautioned Sunday that the retreat of aid groups from Libya's coast was putting lives at risk.

The ship has been plagued by problems since its mission began last month.

The vast majority of those reaching Europe this year have landed in Italy, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Ships manned by charities have played a growing role in rescues, picking up more than a third of all migrants brought ashore so far this year, compared with less than one percent in 2014.

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