Turkey threatens ‘grave consequences’ after east Libyan forces seize its ship over alleged arms smuggling

Ankara has condemned the seizure of a Turkish vessel in the Mediterranean by forces from east Libya, promising a robust response to the interception and calling for the ship to be allowed to continue its journey.

“Targeting Turkish interests in Libya will have grave consequences, and these elements (who target Turkish interests) will be viewed as legitimate targets,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

The ministry “strongly condemned” the move, stressing that the vessel should be allowed resume its planned voyage “immediately,” and adding that the ship had been fined and the crew detained.

The Jamaican-flagged cargo ship ‘Mabruka’ was towed to the port of Ras al-Hilal, east of Benghazi, after being intercepted by the Libyan National Army (LNA) on Monday, as it made its way to Libya’s western port of Misrata. 

Footage posted to social media appeared to show LNA soldiers intercepting the ship, which was reportedly seized over fears that it was transporting arms into western Libya.

LNA spokesperson Ahmed Al-Mismari said that the ship’s crew comprised nine Turkish nationals, seven Indians, and one Azerbaijani. He claimed that the vessel was “being investigated for its violations of maritime laws and regulations” after it entered a restricted area. 

Turkey is a key foreign supporter of Libya’s interim Government of National Accord (GNA) in the west of the country, which has long been fighting the LNA, backed by Egypt, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday Al-Mismari accused Turkey of arming the GNA with mercenaries and weapons, among other supplies.

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In October, the LNA and GNA agreed to a ceasefire and have since been encouraged by the UN to engage in talks so that elections can take place next year in a bid to end the conflict. 

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