ANKARA — Turkey and Germany were at loggerheads on Monday after a German frigate enforcing an arms embargo against Libya intercepted a Turkish freighter in the Mediterranean sea and carried out what a senior Turkish official dismissed as an "illegal" search.
Turkey said personnel from the German frigate Hamburg were flown by helicopter aboard the Libya-bound freighter Rosaline-A on Sunday to carry out an hours-long search without the captain or the Turkish government's permission to board. The captain and crew were forcibly searched and held in one part of the vessel as the German team searched the ship "by force," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
Germany's Defense Ministry said Turkey ordered a halt to the search, forcing the German personnel to depart before completing their work. During their search, the German team had found no cargo that contravened the arms embargo, German Defense Ministry spokesman Christian Thiels told reporters in Berlin.
This was the second incident between Turkey and naval forces from a NATO ally country enforcing an arms blockade against Libya. In June, NATO launched an investigation over an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, after France said one of its frigates was "lit up" three times by Turkish naval targeting radar when it tried to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms trafficking.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said the German warship's personnel conducted the search despite the captain's statements about what his ship was carrying. The search ended after Turkey's "persistent objections," it said.
"We protest this act which was unauthorized and conducted by force," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement. He added that Turkey may seek compensation for damage or losses.
Aksoy renewed Turkey's criticism of the European Union's naval mission which aims to halt arm shipments to Libya and which Ankara has accused of favoring Libya's eastern-based forces against the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.
A senior official said the German team terminated its search aboard the Rosaline-A around dawn after "understanding that there was nothing but humanitarian aid, biscuits and other material such as paints on board."
The freighter continued on its way to Misrata after the search, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with Turkish government rules.
Thiels, the German Defense Ministry spokesman, said the German crew requested permission to board.
"Upon receiving no reply, a German search team was brought by helicopter to the freighter and commenced the search, and the crew was 'cooperative'," Thiels said.
While the team continued its search, German authorities were notified by Turkey that they were disallowing it. The search was then ended and the team sent back to the frigate, Thiels said.
The German official said the order to board the ship came from mission's operational headquarters in Rome.