Berlin, Germany – Scandaling Germany claims Turkey blocks an EU mission inspection of a cargo vessel travelling to Libya.
Raiding Germany claims Turkey has blocked a German military vessel from inspecting a cargo ship suspected of carrying weapons on its way to Libya.
On Sunday evening, the German frigate Hamburg stopped the Turkish – flagged cargo ship, Roseline A, as part of a European Union mission called Operation Irini.
But the search had to be abandoned after Turkey protested and denied permission for the vessel to be probed.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry denounced the inspection as “unauthorised and forceful” and says all crewmembers of the freighter were forcibly searched.
Deputy Minister Sedat Onel later summoned the Italian ambassador, the German Embassy’s Charge d’ Aaires as well as the EU’s envoy to Turkey to formally protest the incident.
Germany has rejected Turkey’s complaints and states that all protocols were followed in the mission, adding that no weapons or illicit materials were found on the ship.
Operation Irini was launched by the EU on 31 March to monitor and enforce compliance with the United Nations Security Council Resolution which bans arms shipments to Libya.
The mission uses aerial, satellite, and maritime assets in order to help “bring stability in Libya and peace to its population”.
Libya has been torn between two warring factions since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011: the UN-recognised Tripoli unity government (GNA), which is supported by Turkey, and eastern forces led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
The rival sides signed a permanent cease-re on Friday, but skepticism remains over whether the agreement will be enforced.
Why did Turkey block the search?
German personnel from the Irini mission boarded the Roseline A cargo vessel to search for suspected arms at 17:54 (15:54 CET) on Sunday.
The team met the vessel in international waters, approximately 200 kilometres north of the port of Benghazi, according to a press release.
The vessel had departed Yarimca in Turkey on 20 November and was sailing on course for Misrata in Libya.
The captain of the freighter had cooperated and shared detailed information about the ship’s load and voyage, according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
Turkey says that armed German forces boarded the vessel by helicopter and conducted a search which lasted for several hours.
“All personnel, including the captain, were searched forcibly, all personnel were gathered and detained in one place, and containers were searched by force, with an armed soldier standing at the captain’s head,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Footage released shows German soldiers searching the vessel’s crew, who are made to stand with their hands on their head in the control room.
Turkey says the inspection was carried out without their consent, nor that of the ship’s captain, and violated international law.
“This intervention, which was initiated upon an ambiguous suspicion and continued until midnight, was terminated only upon the persistent objections of our country.”
“We regret the detention of our ship, which seems to have not violated the arms embargo, from its route for hours under severe weather conditions, and the fact that the personnel were treated as criminals during the inspection.”
“We protest this act of unauthorized and forceful use,” the Ministry stated, adding that they reserve the right to seek compensation for potential damage and losses.
No arms materials found onboard
Germany has rejected the allegations by Turkey and says that the mission followed all protocols. According to a spokesperson in Berlin, the military had warned the Turkish authorities of their intention to inspect the ship, and in the absence of any objection, proceeded to board after four hours.
“If there is no objection within a period of four hours, this is considered as tacit consent,” a Defence Ministry spokesperson said.
“The frigate Hamburg acted in accordance with the instructions of the operation command and along the regulations laid down in the mandate for the operation.”
The decision to search was taken not by the German military but by the Operation Irini headquarters in Rome, the spokesperson added.
“The situation on board [Roseline A] was cooperative,” the Command of the Bundeswehr also stated on Twitter.
Germany confirmed that the inspection was subsequently cancelled by mission leadership once Turkey vetoed the search, and says the team remained onboard until they could safely return to the frigate.
“After consultation with the ship’s command, the boarding team stayed on board until sunrise in order to be able to return safely to Hamburg,” the Ministry said.
In a further statement, Operation Irini said the inspection was carried out “in accordance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions” and that the mission permitted searches in international waters.
“We made good faith eorts to seek the consent of the ag State,” the EU said.
“Having received no answer from the ag State, the Master of the ship and its crew assumed a cooperative attitude towards the boarding team.”
“When the ag State made it clear that it denied the permission to inspect the vessel, Operation Irini suspended activities”.
All sides have agreed that no illicit material or arms were found onboard the Roseline A during the brief inspection.
Turkey had said that the vessel was transporting food, paints, and humanitarian aid materials from Ambarli Port to Misrata.
The 148-metre long cargo ship was cleared to continue on its voyage to Libya and was expected to make port at 21:00 CET on Monday.
Operation Irini also says that all recommended Covid-19 precautions were observed during the inspection.
Turkish claims of a “double-standard”
According to Operation Irini’s guidance, military teams can board a ship for inspection “against the will of the crew” where consent has not been given.
Where boarding is opposed, a team of special forces can “force access” and carry out a search operation that focuses on safety and efficiency.
Sunday’s incident was the second example of tensions between Turkey and naval forces from a NATO ally country.
In June, NATO launched an investigation after France said one of its frigates was “lit up” three times by Turkish naval targeting radar when it tried to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms tracking.
Turkey considers that the EU mission is biased and has accused the EU of blocking arms to the Tripoli government while ignoring those supplied to Khalifa Haftar by his allies.
“The neutrality of Operation Irini is currently under discussion,” said the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
“It is an operation that does not control the arms support to the putschist Haftar and is used arbitrarily to punish the legitimate Libyan government.”
“This double-standard and illegal treatment applied to ships transporting from our country to Libya is never acceptable”.
The member countries of Operation Irini – including Germany and France – for their part issued a joint statement on Monday threatening sanctions against “all Libyan or international parties” that could jeopardize the fragile peace process underway in the country.
Meanwhile France, Italy and Greece, the countries that operate the EU Irini mission, openly support and provide arms assistance to warlord Khalifa Haftar’s forces backed by Russia, Egypt and UAE in Eastern Libya. The EU Irini mission is only imposing embargo on the United Nations’ recognized Libyan government in Tripoli, Western Libya.