US blocks release of Libyan military ship docked in Malta

The United States has blocked a request for the U.N. Security Council to allow a Libyan navy vessel’s return home to patrol Libyan waters in the country’s efforts to stem human trafficking, the AFP reported this week.

The Al Hani frigate has been docked in Malta since 2013 when it was brought in for extensive repairs under a contract with Maltese-based Cassar Ship Repair.

According to AFP, ammunition aboard the frigate was stored during the work.

Although Malta insists on blocking NGOs from carrying out rescue operations it had no reserves in backing the Tripoli government’s request to release the military vessel.

Malta informed the U.N. sanctions committee that Libya’s UN-backed government now wanted the repaired warship returned along with its ammunition in order to combat human trafficking. Smugglers operating with impunity in Libya have loaded hundreds of thousands of migrants on boats to reach Europe by sea since 2014, and thousands have died during the voyages.

Although the UN-backed Libyan government is allowed to import weapons and military hardware with the approval of the UN sanctions committee overseeing the arms embargo imposed on Libya in 2011, the US has blocked the vessel’s return.

AFP said that last month, Malta backed the Tripoli government’s request for the Al Hani’s return given that the vessel was once again seaworthy and planned for use as a patrol boat in Libyan waters, “in view of migration and smuggling issues.”

Yet, the US put a hold on the request on 28 August “pending further review,” according to a document seen by AFP.

The US declined to comment on its decision to block the request with an official insisting that “we cannot share details of closed-door negotiations.”

Sweden, which chairs the Libya sanctions committee, said the request was still being reviewed.

In June the Security Council slapped sanctions on six individuals accused of migrant trafficking in Libya after a video showing African migrants being sold as slaves sparked global outrage last year.

Once again, Tripoli is besieged by warring militias and the UN has appealed to the different Libyan factions to cease fire and protect the lives of innocent people.

The Maltese home affairs minister Michael Farrugia said that to date Maltese nationals in Libya are not in danger but the UN warned that some of the nearly 8,000 arbitrarily detained migrants are trapped in detention centers in area where fighting has been taking place, without access to food or medical treatment.

Some of the migrants have been released from official detention centers but they are reported to be subsequently taken into captivity by armed groups and are being forced to work for them, the UN added.

There are fears that Libya could once again descend into chaos seven years after the overthrow and killing of Muammar Gaddafi, with two rival governments scrambling for control of the oil-rich country.


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