Turkey‘s top diplomat on Nov. 24 accused a German frigate of violating international law when it stopped and searched a commercial vessel without the consent of its flag-state or its captain.
“It is a violation of international law to embark on trade ships like pirates,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters in the capital Ankara.
Çavuşoğlu underlined that both Turkey’s Foreign Ministry and its Embassy in Rome, where the headquarters of Operation Irini under which the German frigate Hamburg was operating is located, had made the necessary warnings that against the boarding action that it could not be lawfully carried out without the permission of the flag state.
He added that they negotiated on the issue with the U.N., NATO and the International Maritime Organization.
“We’ll follow the political and judicial process of the issue. We won’t let go of this incident,” he said.
Çavuşoğlu went on to say that Ankara would do whatever is necessary: “Our president’s instructions are in this direction as well. We cannot leave anything done to us unanswered.”
“We will not only respond on the field, but follow the judicial and politic processes, as well,” he added.
Under Operation Irini, a German frigate on Sunday illegally stopped and searched a private Turkish-flagged ship carrying materials humanitarian aid to Libya, drawing condemnation from Turkish leaders.
Turkey has long stated that the arms embargo on the war-torn North African country was being enforced in a manner biased to warlord Khalifa Haftar.
The Turkish ship was only carrying such materials as food and paint to Libya’s port of Misrata, and did not violate the UN arms embargo, said the Foreign Ministry.
The operation officially announced that their search had turned up no illegal materials.
Turkey: German frigate boarded Turkish ship by force
A German frigate that forcefully and unlawfully boarded a Turkey-flagged cargo vessel in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea did so without the consent of flag state and captain, Turkey’s National Defense Ministry said on Nov. 24.
In a written statement on the incident that took place on Nov. 22 off the Peloponnese islands, the ministry noted that U.N. Security Council resolution 2292 required consultations and permission from the Libyan government to search vessels as part of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya, where the Turkish cargo ship, Rosaline-A, was headed.
Despite this, the Greek-led Operation Irini, under which the German frigate Hamburg was operating, was initiated in March by the EU in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea without satisfying these requirements.
Operations headquarters of Operation Irini is located in Rome, with the commander of the headquarters being Italian, its deputy commander French and commander of its maritime components Greek, while its naval forces included Greek, Italian, and German frigates, the statement added.
The crew of Rosaline-A was questioned via radio by the German Hamburg frigate at around 12.30 p.m. local time [0930 GMT], it recounted.
“Afterwards, the Irini Operations Center asked for permission to search the vessel. The Government of the Republic of Turkey informed the Irini Operations Center at 5.44 p.m. [1444GMT] that it did not give permission for the vessel to be searched,” the ministry said.
“Despite not having the consent of the flag state and captain of the ship, the German frigate’s armed and equipped search team boarded the vessel via a helicopter at 6 p.m. [1500 GMT] by force.”
The ministry added that the team had conducted a thorough search and left the vessel on the next morning at 9.30 a.m. [0630GMT] again via helicopter.
Accusing the search team of treating the Rosaline-A’s crew “as criminals” during the roughly 16-hour search when they were gathered in a single place, it went on to say that the search was terminated upon Turkey’s persistent protests, as well as the failure to find a “suspicious situation” on board as the cargo consisted only of flour, oil, biscuits, meat, cosmetics, health, and “similar consumption and construction supplies.”
Turkey expects allies to act in line with international law
The ministry said it was worrying that such an “unlawful practice” was carried out by an allied navy.
“It is clear that the operation commander, who commanded the ships at sea in this wrongful practice, behaved biased and emotionally.
“All of our rights in this matter are reserved. It should not be forgotten that this type of bullying will set an example for other practices,” it said.
Questioning Operation Irini’s legitimacy, the ministry said it violated the principle of freedom of the open seas and ignores the support provided to putschist Khalifa Haftar’s forces in Libya.
It stressed that Turkey, since the beginning, held the position that the Libyan crisis could only be resolved through political dialogue, not military means.
It said Turkey was ready to work towards the preservation of peace and stability in the region and to increase the necessary cooperation and coordination by preventing such incidents.
“We expect all parties, especially our allies, to act in accordance with international law, maritime law and customs,” it concluded.
“Operation Irini was stillborn. It has lacked a solid basis in terms of international law since the beginning,” Hulusi Akar also told reporters at the Turkish parliament in the capital Ankara on Nov. 24.
The operation’s implementation has been problematic since the beginning, he said.
He said that the EU should have asked Libya’s U.N.-recognized government for permission before launching the operation this March.
Hurriyet Daily News