This month has seen what is believed to be the first arms seizure from a vessel in international waters of the Mediterranean by a vessel deployed as part of the EU Naval Force Mediterranean Operation Sophia.
The German ship Rhein carried out an inspection on the motor vessel, El Mukthar, flying a Libyan flag, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 2292 of 2016.
“The Lithuanian boarding team reached the vessel by Zodiacs and once on board found several types of weapons, including machineguns, AK-47s, RPG rounds, RPG launchers, mortar grenades and ammunition.
“All weapons seized were transferred to the German ship to be checked, counted and then disposed of by military personnel, in accordance with the resolution,” a statement said.
Any evidence found linking the seized arms to transport of items prohibited under the arms embargo on Libya will be “transmitted to the relevant law enforcement authorities of UN member states and/or competent EU bodies” for further action the statement added.
A full report will go to the UN Sanctions Committee.
The EU naval operation was launched in June 2015 with the core task of contributing to wider efforts by the continental body to disrupt human smuggling and trafficking networks in the southern and central Mediterranean.
In October last year, the task force was handed the additional tasks of training Libyan Navy and coastguard personnel and policing the UN arms embargo off the Libyan coast. The relevant resolution condemns the flow of arms to or from the North African country and authorises member states, acting individually or through regional organisations, to conduct inspections and seize and divert vessels suspected of carrying arms to or from Libya. To date 530 events have been executed in accordance with the resolution. Among them are friendly approaches, flag enquiries and inspections.
As far as the force’s original mandate is concerned 108 suspected smugglers and traffickers have been apprehended and 443 boats “removed from criminal organisations’ availability” the EUNavFor statement said.