Turkey has summoned the envoys to Ankara of the European Union, Germany and Italy to protest against a German attempt to search a Libya-bound, Turkish-flagged commercial ship, according to the foreign ministry.
The move on Monday came hours after Ankara accused the German navy of conducting an “unauthorised” search on the Roseline A freighter.
It said the action on Sunday southwest of the Greek Peloponnese peninsula violated international law as no permission had been granted to search the vessel in international waters.
The EU’s Operation Irini, tasked with enforcing a United Nations arms embargo on war-torn Libya, issued no immediate comment but the German defence ministry said they had sought permission, adding that, after four hours had passed with no reply, it was standard practice to believe there was implicit permission.
Soldiers from the frigate Hamburg had boarded the vessel but had to abandon checks and withdraw after Turkey protested to the EU mission, which had ordered the search, the German defence ministry said.
Turkey said the vessel was carrying humanitarian aid and the soldiers had found nothing suspicious. German authorities also said they had not found anything suspicious by the time they were ordered off the ship.
“Everything went exactly according to protocol,” a German foreign ministry spokeswoman said.
Footage filmed by the vessel’s crew – and aired repeatedly on Turkish media – showed a quarrel between crew members and armed German soldiers who landed on the ship aboard a helicopter.
The soldiers stayed on board into the early hours of Monday, finding only biscuits and other humanitarian aid headed to the Libyan port of Misrata, Turkish media reports said.
The Turkish foreign ministry said it was protesting against “this unauthorised action, which was carried out using force”.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said: “The captain showed cooperation and shared information about the ship’s freight and its course. Despite this, at 17:45, armed forces from the Irini Operation boarded the ship and carried out a ‘monitoring’ that lasted long hours.
“We protest this act, which was carried out by force and without authorisation (and) retain the right to seek compensation,” he said.
The incident came amid rising tensions between Turkey and the EU. The bloc’s foreign policy chief has warned that ties are reaching a “watershed moment” over Turkish oil prospecting in waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus, saying that sanctions could be imposed next month.
Turkey, which backs Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, views Operation Irini on as biased.
Ankara believes the bloc ignores shipments sent to forces loyal to Libya’s renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who has been backed in the conflict by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
Libya has endured almost a decade of fighting since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime leader Moammar Gaddafi.
But there have been signs of progress, with last month’s ceasefire formally ending fighting between Haftar’s forces and the Tripoli-based GNA.
EU powers involved in efforts to end the conflict in Libya issued a joint statement on Monday threatening sanctions against “all Libyan and international parties” that harm the strife-torn country’s peace process.
Their statement said they were “ready to take measures against those who obstruct” the process, plunder state funds or commit rights abuses.
Operation Irini’s official website says it reserves the right to board ships without permission on so-called “friendly approaches”.
In June, a French frigate under NATO command sought to inspect a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship suspected of smuggling arms to Libya in violation of a UN embargo.
Paris then complained that one of its ships was subjected to radar targeting by Turkish frigates while trying to inspect the cargo.