Libya’s east-based forces release Turkish vessel

Libya’s east-based forces release Turkish vessel

Forces loyal to a renegade Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar said on Thursday they released a Turkish-owned vessel seized last week.

The seizure of the Turkish ship threatened to escalate tensions in the conflict-stricken North African country since Turkey is the main supporter of the rivals of the east-based forces, the UN-recognised administration in Tripoli in western Libya.

The Jamaica-flagged cargo vessel, Mabouka, was let go after local authorities questioned its crew and had them pay a fine for violations of sailing rules in Libyan waters, the spokesman for Libya’s east-based forces, Ahmed al-Mosmari, wrote on his Facebook page. He did not mention the amount of the fine.

Turkey’s foreign ministry had warned about “dire consequences” and called on the east-based commander, Haftar, and his forces to allow the ship to resume its planned voyage,

The oil-rich Arab country has been split west to east since it descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that overthrew and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The vessel was stopped on Saturday after it sailed into Libyan waters without prior permission, Mosmari wrote.

He said earlier the crew included nine Turkish sailors – seven from India and one from Azerbaijan – and it did not respond to calls from the naval forces.

Private security firm Dryad Global said the vessel was sailing from Egypt’s Port Said to Libya’s Mediterranean city of Misrata and that satellite imagery on Tuesday showed it was held at Ras al-Hilal port, which is controlled by Haftar’s forces.

Haftar launched an offensive in April 2019 to try and capture the capital Tripoli from the UN-recognised government. Throughout his march on the city, Haftar had the backing of Egypt, France, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

However, his campaign collapsed in June when Tripoli-allied militias, with heavy Turkish support, gained the upper hand in the fighting.

In October, the warring sides agreed to a UN-brokered ceasefire, a deal that envisioned the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya within three months.

Haftar’s forces stopped the Mabrouka vessel on Monday off the eastern port town of Derna.