Turkey will take measures in response to an illegal search of a Turkish-flagged commercial ship by an EU operation to enforce a Libya arms embargo, said a retired senior Turkish admiral Tuesday.
Stressing that flag state’s consent is necessary to intervene with a commercial ship in international waters, Deniz Kutluk told Anadolu Agency that UN Security Council resolutions on the arms embargo do not entail a right to interfere with Turkish shipping, as happened Sunday.
Underlining that the search was not a legal but a political action as a result of German-Greek cooperation, he said the search had a hidden political agenda.
“Germany wants to give a message to Turkey on the one hand and appease Greece on the other hand prior to the upcoming [Dec. 10-11] EU leaders summit,” he argued.
On Sunday, a German frigate under the EU’s Operation Irini boarded and inspected the Turkish-flagged merchant cargo vessel Roseline A as part of efforts to enforce the UN Security Council arms embargo on Libya, in a move that drew sharp condemnations from Turkey.
Stressing that under the embargo ships approaching Libya can be stopped only in open seas and with approval of the legitimate government, Kutluk added: “Searching a ship requires the flag state’s permission. In this case, the ship was not in the open seas adjacent to Libya’s territorial wars. It was 200 kilometers away from that area. Though approval from Libya’s government was needed as well, it was not sought.”
“Turkey was asked but didn’t give permission. In this case, what we see is a violation of the freedom of seas principle that has been in effect since 1670,” he said, adding that “there will be consequences to this.”
Reiterating that Greece is also responsible for the illegal search, he said: “After what happened, a Greek ship sailing anywhere in the world could be searched by a Turkish warship. International law would recognize this. It gives right to reprisal, retaliating against those who violated legal norms.”
Underlining Greece’s hostile policy towards Turkey, he said Greece thinks anything that hurts Ankara would benefit Athens.
“Germany also made a mistake by sending commandos to a Turkish-flagged ship, a NATO ally. We know that they treated the ship’s crew harshly. As such, Turkey has the right to retaliate,” Kutlu remarked.
– Backlash from Turkey
Turkey on Monday decried the boarding and search by the EU mission.
“We deeply regret that our vessel, which as became apparent did not violated the arms embargo, was kept from its route for hours under severe weather conditions and that during the inspection the crew were treated as if they were criminals,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy.
“This intervention was conducted without the consent of either Turkey, as the flag state, or the master of the vessel,” said Aksoy, adding that it only came to an end upon persistent objections by Turkey.
Aksoy said that the impartiality of Operation Irini is dubious as it was initiated without negotiations with either the legitimate Libyan government or Turkey or NATO, calling the double standards and unlawful approach towards ships going from Turkey to Libya unacceptable.
The ministry also summoned the ambassadors of the EU and Italy and the German charge d’affaires to protest the incident.
Libya has been torn by a civil war since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
A new government was founded in 2015 under an UN-led agreement, but efforts for a long-term political settlement have failed in the face of attacks by the warlord Haftar.
Turkey supports the country’s legitimate government based in the capital Tripoli.
* Writing by Ahmet Gencturk
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