The gradual empowerment of the Libyan Coast Guard through EU training and funding has introduced them as a new actor in the Central Mediterranean amongst other civil and military actors intervening to prevent loss of life at sea. This article examines the contested recognition of the authority of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Tripoli over the newly formalized Libyan Search and Rescue Region. It argues that the recognition of the Libyan coordination authority made by the International Maritime Organisation, has changed the way the international waters separating Libya and Europe are governed. Through the close analysis of three ethnographic vignettes depicting instances of rescue of migrants by an NGO vessel, this article illustrates how the Italian authorities are able to exercise control over this vast area indirectly via the formalization of the Libyan authority and concomitantly imped the operations of civil rescue NGO boats in the zone. This formalization enables Italian authorities (and their EU counterparts) to establish a form of indirect governance in this liminal border zone that clashes with other preceding legal orders which regulate distress cases at sea, i.e. international maritime law.