Ankara prevents German forces on Libya arms embargo mission from checking Turkish ship

German Navy personnel stand in front of the Frigate Hamburg Reuters / Ahmed Jadallah / File Photo German Navy personnel stand in front of the Frigate Hamburg
Turkey prevented German soldiers on an EU military mission in the Mediterranean from conducting a full search of a Turkish cargo ship suspected of taking weapons to Libya, officials in Ankara and Berlin said on Monday.

German servicemen from the frigate Hamburg boarded the Turkish freighter overnight, the Defense Ministry in Berlin said. They were later forced to abandon their checks and withdraw after Ankara protested to the EU mission.

The frigate was part of the EU’s Irini mission aimed at stopping embargoed arms reaching Libya. “By the time the soldiers left the ship, they had not found anything suspicious,” a German Defense Ministry spokesman said.

The 16,000-tonne container ship was intercepted about 200km (125 miles) north of the Libyan city of Benghazi on Sunday night. Before boarding, the Hamburg had followed standard procedure by waiting four hours for approval from the flag country, the spokesperson said.

A German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that “all procedures were followed correctly.”

In Ankara on Monday officials protested an “unauthorized” search on the Turkish ship “carrying humanitarian aid” to Libya.

“We regret the detention of our ship, which seems to have not violated the arms embargo… and the fact that the [ship’s] personnel were treated like criminals during the inspection,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said. “All kinds of compensation rights… will naturally be reserved.”

Footage posted online purportedly showed the raid in action.

Aksoy described Irini as a “biased” operation that does not control the arms support of Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

France earlier accused three Turkish navy vessels of “harassing” a French frigate in June which tried to inspect a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship suspected of smuggling arms to Libya in violation of a UN embargo. Turkey disputed the accusation and denied trafficking arms to Libya.