The Malta Independent 14 November 2018, Wednesday

USA blocks request for Libyan Frigate to be returned home from Malta

Tuesday, 11 September 2018, 10:12 Last update: about 3 months ago

The United States of America has blocked a request to allow a Libyan Navy vessel which was in Malta since 2013 from returning home to combat migrant smuggling, international news reports have read.

The frigate came to Malta back in 2013 to undergo extensive repairs.  The Libyan Express reported that the Libyan UN-backed government wanted the ship, now repaired, returned as part of the country’s efforts to combat migrant smuggling.

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The vessel, which had been taking in water, was sent to the Cassar Ship Repair facility in Marsa, where it still is.

A spokesman for the Maltese government said the ship continues to be held in Malta due to the arms embargo and the need to receive guidance from the United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee on Libya to allow the ship to return. Nothing has changed over the past few days.

The Maltese Government, through its Sanctions Monitoring Board, has made representations to the Libya Sanctions Committee requesting guidance on the formal request by the Libyan state for the vessel's return. This is an ongoing process and one which understandably takes time, the spokesman said.

According to reports, the ship’s ammunition was stowed away during the repairs. Libya is now asking for the ship and its ammunition to be returned. The 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 Libyan Express said Malta last month proposed that the committee agree to the request, given that the ship was once again seaworthy and planned for use as a patrol boat in Libyan waters, “in view of migration and smuggling issues.”

The Chair of the committee, Sweden, said the request is being reviewed. But the United States halted the request pending further review.

Over the past days it was reported that the Libyan coast guard was in shambles. Apart from the lack of Libyan assets in the area, most migrant rescue NGOs have been incapacitated, with three groups having ships detained in Malta.

The government had cracked down on rescue NGOs after the MV Lifeline case, which had triggered a diplomatic crisis between Malta and Italy. The captain of the Lifeline is still undergoing criminal proceedings in Malta. The government had said that no NGO rescue vessel would be allowed to enter or leave port before it was established whether any international laws were being broken.

The NGOs are set to protest in Valletta today. They have been out of action for over two months now.

Meanwhile the situation in Tripoli worsened again yesterday, when gunmen stormed the headquarters of the country's national oil company, shooting randomly, setting off explosions and taking hostages, officials said. Security forces later stormed the building.

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