The interception of a Libya-bound Turkish vessel by a German frigate part of the European Union-led Operation Irini in the Eastern Mediterranean “violates international law and practices,” Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar stated Tuesday.
Speaking to journalists in Ankara, Akar said that such an interception in international waters requires the approval of the flag country. Pointing out that the vessel carried food and supplies to Libya, Akar underlined that efforts were underway to ensure the security of Turkish commercial vessels.
“The statements of our allies, unfortunately, do not reflect reality while some facts are distorted,” Akar said.
His words came after Germany on the same day rejected Ankara's protest against the interception as being unjustified.
"The soldiers behaved correctly and acted absolutely in line with the mandate of the European mission Irini," Germany’s Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said.
"The accusations that are being raised against the soldiers are unjustified," she added.
The EU for its part said in a written statement on Tuesday that: "Operation Irini boarded the vessel and inspected it in accordance with internationally agreed procedures including NATO procedures. Operation Irini's boarding team acted with the highest degree of professionalism and no incident was registered throughout the action." It added that the inspection had found "no evidence of illicit material on board."
However, footage of the interception showed armed soldiers boarding the ship in a manner that resembled a counterterrorism operation. The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Monday said that the Turkish vessel's captain cooperated with Operation Irini forces and shared extensive information about the vessel’s cargo and navigation but faced an hourslong inspection despite their cooperation.
"All the staff was detained and the captain was held at gunpoint by soldiers during the inspection," the ministry said in a written statement.
Akar criticized Operation Irini saying that it is not backed by a concrete basis of international law.
Operation Irini, approved by EU foreign ministers on March 31, aims to operate in the air and sea and with satellites to ensure that all countries respect a ban on providing arms to the parties involved in the Libyan conflict.
Seven countries are participating in Operation Irini, named after the Greek word for peace, including Italy, Greece, France, Germany, Poland, Malta and Luxembourg, with frigates and maritime patrol aircraft.
Although the operation aims to enforce the U.N. arms embargo on Libya's warring sides, it mainly focuses on maritime activities in the Mediterranean, while putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar's side – the enemy of the legitimate Libyan administration – continues to receive arms and ammunition mainly by air and land, according to Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj.
The recent interception was strongly condemned by several high-level politicians as well as government officials.
Turkey's Parliament Speaker Mustafa Şentop on Monday denounced the illegal search of the private Turkish-flagged ship, writing on Twitter that "this is a modern barbarism."
Turkey will hold the perpetrators of this violation of international laws accountable, he added.
The move was also criticized by Turkey's main opposition leader on Tuesday. "We strongly condemn Germany and Italy over the raid on our ship in the international waters," Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, chairperson of the Republican People's Party (CHP), told his party's parliamentary group in the capital Ankara.
Kılıçdaroğlu urged the government to give a clear response to the illegal search and said that the EU had double standards when it comes to Turkey.
This unlawful move is a national security issue for Turkey, Good Party (IP) Chairperson Meral Akşener stated similarly on Tuesday.
"The illegal search of a Turkish-flagged ship by a German frigate under the rule of a Greek commander is a border violation because a vessel in international waters is considered the territory of its country of origin," she said in a meeting of her party's parliamentary group, adding that this cannot be passed off as a simple mistake.