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Traffickers open fire in Mediterrean battle for migrant boats

14 April 2015, 18:42 CET
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(ROME) - Traffickers determined to recover a boat used to transport migrants across the Mediterranean have fired weapons into the air to keep EU patrols at bay, the bloc's border agency said Tuesday.

Icelandic coastguard vessel Tyr, patrolling the area as part of the European Union's border agency Frontex, rescued 250 people from a migrant boat some 60 nautical miles off Libya on Monday.

As the operation was winding up a speedboat approached carrying smugglers who fired several shots in the air before fleeing, taking the wooden boat the migrants had been in with them.

"This is a sign that smugglers in Libya are running short of boats and are more willing to use weapons to recover those used to transport the migrants," said Fabrice Leggeri, Frontex executive director.

It was the second such episode this year. In February, the Italian coastguard was confronted by armed traffickers who ordered the migrant boat be handed over once the rescue operation was complete.

The boats are usually impounded by Italian or EU authorities as part of their investigations into trafficking rings, which are known to collect passengers for huge fees in strife-torn Libya and pack them into unseaworthy vessels for Europe.

Frontex vessels assisted the Italian authorities in picking up between Friday and Monday around 8,500 boat migrants from the Horn of Africa, Sub Sahara and West Africa.

The agency said 11 bodies in total had been recovered during the operations, including nine from one capsized boat.


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