Libya’s coastguard on Sunday warned against “illegal” fishing in its waters, denying Italy’s claims it had wounded a fisherman as it fired shots during an operation against four boats from Sicily.
Citing “repeated, documented violations”, the coastguard noted on Thursday morning it had “received reports that four Italian fishing vessels were heading from southern Italy” into Libyan waters.
The coastguard dispatched a patrol to intercept and inspect the boats to ensure they were not carrying out “suspicious activities” or smuggling.
Rather than cooperate, the boats fled, sparking a three-hour chase in which “warning shots were fired in the air”.
One of the boats was finally caught and inspected, and a crew member injured as he hit the window of the boat.
The coastguard remarked that this is not the first time Italian fishing vessels have carried out such actions and violations just as it warned that fishing in Libyan waters without authorization is illegal.
It added that Libya’s preservation of the sovereignty of its waters is a legitimate right.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio spoke against the coastguard’s actions but also warned captains against sailing into “dangerous” Libyan waters, a warning that has been going on for the last 10 years.
In September, 18 Sicily-based fishing crew members of various nationalities were captured off Benghazi by strongman Khalifa Haftar’s forces for fishing in Libyan waters. They regained freedom in December.