4 May 2011

Misrata: On board the under-fire aid ship

A ship carrying humanitarian aid to besieged Misrata comes under fire, prompting UK Government protests. Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson witnesses the desperate efforts to rescue the wounded.

Troops loyal to Colonel Gaddafi continued to shell the port of Misrata on Wednesday as a British-funded rescue ship docked to deliver 180 tons of relief supplies.

Passengers quickly boarded the Red Star One, which left Misrata carrying about 800 migrants, journalists and wounded Libyans. At least four people were reportedly killed in the latest attack on the port.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell condemned the Gaddafi regime for blocking aid to civilians.

Interviewed on Channel 4 News, Mr Mitchell said this was the fourth of five aid vessels sponsored by Britain.

“We demand that Gaddafi stops shelling his own people.” International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell

But he added: “It is extremely difficult to defend the people who are there in the port. That is purely because the artillery that is being used against them is dug in in Misrata in civilian accommodation and – because of the great care that NATO is taking not to kill civilians – it is simply impossible for them to target these guns.

“We demand that Gaddafi stops shelling his own people. We demand unfettered access not only for these humanitarian missions into Misrata, but also in Tripoli, where the UN people have had to leave.”

Libyans desperately reach out for aid in Misrata.
READ: Alex Thomson blogs from onboard the Red Star One

The International Organisation for Migration said there were hundreds of Libyan civilians who were trying to get on the ship to flee violence in Misrata.

“But with a limited capacity, the ramp of the boat had to be pulled up so that the ship could pull away from the dock in safety,” the IOM said in a statement.

Misrata is the only major city in Libya’s west to remain in rebel hands, and has come under sustained attack from pro-Gaddafi forces for more than two months.

Mr Mitchell announced on 18 April that the UK would fund the IOM to evacuate 5,000 stranded people to the opposition stronghold of Benghazi.

Crimes against humanity

The latest attack comes as the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court accuses Gaddafi troops of “crimes against humanity”.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the Gaddafi regime had committed “widespread and systematic” crimes against civilians.

Mr Ocampo said that included shooting unarmed demonstrators, torture, systematic rape, the use of cluster munitions and the blocking of humanitarian supplies.

He said he will seek five warrants from judges at The Hague for those who gave orders for the alleged atrocities.