FEATURE | Libyan rebel forces seize ship amid rising regional tensions

Libyan Navy Damen patrol craft

Analysts are predicting that the eastern Mediterranean is set for significant naval conflict.

Important destabilising factors are the de facto civil war in Libya, and a complex, offshore energy resources-linked, web of maritime territorial disputes, involving Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon and Israel.

Matters seem to be coming to a head in Libya, with Turkey now openly supporting the UN-recognised regime in western Libya, and seemingly about to intervene militarily, and Russia providing strong, if less overt, backing to the eastern Libya- based rebel Libya National Army (LNA) of General Khalifa Haftar. The LNA is currently mounting an offensive aimed at taking control of Tripoli.

Haftar has been issuing warnings to Turkey, while building up the naval element of the LNA. An offshore incident on December 21 showed that tension is indeed radiating seaward from Libya.

LNA naval forces stopped and seized a Turkish-owned, and -manned, freighter, identified in regional media reports as the Grenada-registered Ballista, off the city of Derba, and took it into the port of Ras El Hilal. The ship, with a cargo of flour, was reportedly then searched for arms, before being released on December 23.

LNA naval units involved included at least one Damen patrol craft. Eight of these vessels were supplied to the official Libyan Navy, and the LNA is known to have sequestered a number of them. One was observed last year, operating with the LNA’s ex-Irish Naval Service patrol ship Alkaram.


Trevor Hollingsbee

Maritime security expert and columnist, Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police, Assistant Secretary for Security in the British Hong Kong Government Security Branch, and Intelligence Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defence. As an independent defence and security analyst he has had some 1,500 articles on maritime security, and geopolitical topics, published in a range of international journals and newspapers. He is an Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, and a past Vice-Chairman of the Institute’s Hong Kong branch.