500 illegal immigrants were rescued off the Libyan coast on Thursday, said the spokesman of the Libyan Navy, Ayoub Qassim, adding that a patrol from the Libyan Coast Guard exchanged fire with smugglers off Matrad town, western Libya.

Qassim added that they rescued the migrants - African, Arab, and Bangladeshi - from aboard a wooden boat, on which there were 463 migrants, including 27 women and 8 children, 11 miles north of Sabratha city.

                                                                                                                (Photo: Libyan Coast Guard)

The patrol saw three other boats for human smugglers transferring other migrants into dinghies in the middle of the seawater awaiting to sail to Europe, so when the patrol neared the location, the smugglers opened fire on its boat forcing the patrol to respond to the gunfire with similar action, according to Qassim.

When the exchange of fire took place, the smugglers and migrants' boats sailed back ashore, Qassim explained.

One dinghy was left in the water as it had no engine and had about 40 African migrants onboard, Qassim indicated, saying that those migrants were also rescued by the Libyan coastguards and were taken ashore.

The patrol of the Libyan coast returned to Al-Zawiya Refinery port, where the Coast Guard checkpoint is located, at 7:00 am Thursday, said the Navy spokesman.

"We helped the migrants receive good humanitarian assistance and then took them to Al-Naser migration shelter center in Al-Zawiya." Qassim concluded.