"Targeting Turkish interests in Libya will have grave consequences," the Turkish Foreign Ministry has said in a statement.

Forces linked to warlord Khalifa Haftar board a Turkish ship off the Libyan coast, December 8, 2020.
Forces linked to warlord Khalifa Haftar board a Turkish ship off the Libyan coast, December 8, 2020. (AA / AA)

Turkey has condemned the interception of one of its ships by eastern-based Libyan militias in the Mediterranean, saying it must be allowed to resume its journey to western Libya and warning of possible reprisal.

Warlord Khalifa Haftar’s militias said on Monday it intercepted the Turkish ship Mabrooka, under a Jamaican flag, heading to the port of Misrata. A Turkish source said the vessel was carrying medicine and medical products.

Haftar’s militias stopped the Jamaica-flagged cargo vessel, Mabrooka, on Monday off the eastern port town of Derna, said Ahmed al Mismari, the spokesperson for Haftar.

The vessel’s crew includes nine Turkish sailors, seven from India and one from Azerbaijan, he said. Mismari said the vessel entered a “no sail” zone and did not respond to calls.

In a statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said steps to ensure the vessel resumes its journey must be taken immediately, and warned that those targeting Turkish interests in Libya would be deemed “legitimate targets.”

The private security firm Dryad Global said in a statement that the vessel was sailing from Egypt’s Port Said to Libya’s Mediterranean city of Misrata. It said satellite imagery showed the vessel was held at Ras al Hilal port, which is controlled by Haftar’s militias.

"Haftar and his militia continue their aggressive attitude even at a period when there is progress in the UN-led political process among our Libyan brothers and sisters," the ministry said.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the vessel’s seizure, warning about “grave consequences” and calling on Haftar’s militias to allow the ship to resume its planned voyage, according to the statement.

"We remind that there will be grave consequences, and we will consider these elements as legitimate targets in case Turkish interests are targeted in Libya,” it added.

READ MORE: Turkey’s Libya move: A message of deterrence to whom it may concern 

Libyan arms embargo

Turkey is the main foreign backer of Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which has for years been fighting the so called Libyan National Army (LNA) under warlord Khalifa Haftar. In October, the GNA and LNA signed a ceasefire deal and the United Nations has been pushing a political dialogue aimed at elections next year as a solution.

Turkey has sent military advisers and trainers to the GNA, turning the tide of the conflict. The LNA is backed by Russia, Egypt, France and the United Arab Emirates.

Both sides have stopped short of withdrawing forces from the frontline, as demanded by the truce.

Last month, Turkey and Germany traded barbs over the search of a Turkish freight ship by a European Union military mission in the Mediterranean aimed at enforcing the Libyan arms embargo, in a move Ankara called illegal.

READ MORE: Turkey: Greek-led EU mission's search of Libya-bound ship illegal

The North African country has been split west to east since it descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed former leader of Libya Muammar Gaddafi.

It's the second Turkish-owned vessel seized by Haftar’s militias this year, according to Ambrey Intelligence, a British private maritime intelligence firm. In 2020, Haftar’s militias seized at least six ships.

Haftar launched an offensive in April 2019 to try and capture Tripoli from the UN-supported government. His campaign, however, collapsed in June, when Tripoli with 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.

READ MORE: Why is Khalifa Haftar mobilising troops in eastern Libya?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies