The German government voiced concern after Turkey stopped the inspection of a suspicious vessel off the Libyan coast, which German forces had boarded as part of an EU-led arms control mission.
On Sunday, the German frigate “Hamburg,” which is in the Mediterranean as part of the EU’s Operation Irini to enforce the U.N. arms embargo on Libya, stopped the Turkish vessel “Rosaline A” about 200 kilometers off the coast because of suspicions that arms were being transported, German Defense Ministry spokesperson Christian Thiels said Monday at a press conference in Berlin.
German marines boarded the ship via helicopter but had to abort their mission after Turkey intervened diplomatically, Thiels added.
“We take the incident very seriously,” Andrea Sasse, a spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry, said at the same briefing.
“We are concerned that there are incidents of this kind, that various countries are suspected of smuggling weapons into Libya,” Sasse said. “We have made it clear several times in connection with the Berlin Libya Conference that we expect all participants of this conference to comply with the arms embargo, which still exists with regard to Libya. This of course also applies to Turkey.”
Under international law, the Irini mission needs to request consent from a vessel’s flag state before a ship can be boarded for inspections. If there is no reply within four hours, this can be interpreted as “tacit consent,” Thiels said, adding that was the case with the Turkish vessel.
Only after German marines had already boarded the vessel and started their search did Turkey react and say it did not agree with the inspection. “Until the interruption of the inspection, no prohibited goods could be found on board this freighter,” Thiels said.
The incident resembles an earlier clash between a French frigate and Turkish ships in June, which led to high-level tensions within the NATO military alliance: French authorities said their frigate had wanted to inspect a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship suspected of smuggling arms to Libya but faced hostile behavior from three Turkish naval ships escorting the vessel.
Both incidents come amid a ratcheting of tensions between the EU and Turkey. Last week, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned Turkey that it must stop provocations such as the extension of gas exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean or risk EU sanctions.
At their upcoming European Council meeting on December 10-11, EU leaders are set to discuss relations with Turkey and potential restrictive measures against the country.
Sasse said that “incidents of this kind” off the Libyan coast “will certainly be discussed” at the European Council.
Also on Monday, the governments of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom issued a statement to welcome the outcome of U.N.-backed political dialogue in Libya earlier this month, which included a roadmap for elections in the war-torn country on December 24.