Eastern-based Libyan forces have intercepted a Turkish ship under a Jamaican flag heading to the port of Misrata in western Libya, their spokesman said, in what could be a new flashpoint in the conflict after weeks of truce.
The vessel, called Mabruka, was “being investigated for its violations of maritime laws and regulations,” Ahmed al-Mismari, spokesman for the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) said late on Monday on his social media account.
He added that the ship entered a banned area and its crew did not respond to a call from the Libyan navy. It was then towed to Ras al-Hilal port.
The ship’s crew had nine Turkish nationals, seven Indians and one Azerbaijani sailor, he said.
Turkey is the main foreign backer of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in western Libya, which has for years been fighting the LNA.
The LNA is backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Libya has been in turmoil since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi and has become a battleground for rival proxy forces.
A Turkish source, who requested anonymity, told Reuters news agency the ship was carrying medicines and other medical products from Egypt to Libya, and it was expected to be released soon.
“Patients who urgently need the medicines and blood products on that ship are waiting in Libya. It is clear that there are no weapons or anything else,” the source said. “Such seizures are not right.”
The source added the LNA may have been emboldened by the European Union’s Irini Operation, a military mission enforcing an arms embargo on Libya that angered Ankara when it searched a Turkish vessel last month.
The GNA and LNA signed a ceasefire deal in October and the United Nations has been pushing a political dialogue aimed at elections next year as a solution to Libya’s long-running conflict.
But both sides have stopped short of withdrawing forces from the front line, as demanded by the truce, while an incident in southern Libya on Sunday, in which LNA forces seized a military camp, has further tested the agreement.
Al-Mismari on Monday accused Turkey of continuing to supply arms and fighters to the GNA.
A panel of UN experts has cited the foreign supporters of both sides as breaching an arms embargo on Libya.