Turkish prosecutors launched an investigation Friday into the search by soldiers of a German naval frigate of a Turkish cargo ship carrying aid to Libya.
However, the German Defense Ministry stated that soldiers from the frigate “Hamburg” boarded the Turkish freighter “Rosaline A,” on the night of November 22 to search for arms but were forced to abandon their mission after Turkey protested to the EU.
“A German frigate participating in the EU-led Operation Irini (to enforce arms EU arms embargo on Libya) unlawfully stopped and searched a commercial Turkish cargo vessel carrying food and paint supplies to Libya in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Daily Sabah said quoting security sources.
Footage obtained from the interception showed soldiers boarding the ship in a manner that resembled a counterterrorism operation with heavily armed soldiers ushering the ship’s civilian crew to the deck at gunpoint. The Turkish aid vessel was intercepted about 200 kilometers north of the Libyan city of Benghazi on Sunday night.
Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK) on Wednesday condemned the “unlawful interception” of the Libya-bound Turkish cargo vessel. The council meeting chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed Turkey’s disapproval and condemnation of Irini’s “unilateral” action, believing it is against “international law” and “alliance relations,” according to a statement released after the meeting.
Turkey's Foreign Ministry on Monday also protested the allegedly illegal interception. "Operation Irini is a sided operation. It is an operation that aims to punish the legitimate Libyan government and does not inspect arms supplies to the putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar, and is involved in arbitrary practices," ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said Monday.
The Hamburg warship is part of the EU's Operation Irini, which was approved by EU foreign ministers on March 31. It aims to operate in the air and sea and with satellites to ensure that all countries respect a ban on providing arms to the parties involved in the Libyan conflict.
Turkey claims that while operation Irini aims to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya's warring sides, it mainly focuses on maritime activities in the Mediterranean, while turning a blind eye to arms delivered to putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar by land and air. Haftar is fighting against the UN-approved Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). Russia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been providing arms and military equipment to Haftar's forces.
Turkey supports the U.N.-backed GNA in Tripoli against rival Haftar forces based in the country’s east. It was the second incident between Turkey and naval forces from a NATO ally enforcing an arms blockade against Libya.
In June, NATO launched an investigation over an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean. France said one of its frigates was “lit up” three times by Turkish targeting radar when it tried to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms trafficking.