Italy Seizes Consignment of Weapons Intended for Libyan Warlord

Pro-Haftar fighters engaged in an attack, 2014 (file image)
Pro-Haftar fighters engaged in an attack, 2014 (file image)

Published Jun 23, 2024 4:13 PM by The Maritime Executive


Reports have emerged that last week, Italian authorities worked with U.S intelligence to seize a consignment of Libya-bound weapons aboard the containership MSC Arina.

The vessel had arrived on June 18 at Gioia Tauro, where Italian law enforcement intercepted it, according to the paper Corriere della Sera. MSC Arina had left Yantian Port in China on April 30, making a stop in Singapore before sailing around Africa via the Cape of Good Hope. It then entered the Med via Gibraltar.

The vessel is believed to have been on the radar of U.S. authorities for a consignment of weapons worth millions of dollars, allegedly bound for Benghazi, Libya. While the authorities did not provide specific details on the kind of weapons seized, it is believed they were destined for forces led by Eastern Libya warlord General Khalifa Haftar. The UN maintains an arms embargo on Libya, making it illegal to import military weapons into the country; the ban is frequently violated by foreign supporters of both sides of Yemen’s civil war.

MSC Arina left Gioia Tauro on Thursday and is expected to dock in Tanger Med in Morocco this week. When asked about the incident, the ocean carrier MSC said it had no records of container seizures affecting any of its vessels.  

Russian ties

Haftar sponsors a rival administration to the UN-backed government in Tripoli, and controls eastern Libya and some parts in the South. He has close ties with Russia and relies heavily on the Russian military group Wagner for military support.

Following Haftar’s visit to Moscow last year, reports emerged that a defense accord was being negotiated, which will see Russia expand its military base in eastern Libya. The plan is to have a naval base in the Mediterranean city of Tobruk, a strategic position for the Russian Navy near Europe’s southern coast.

Recent events indicate the plans for the naval base could be on course. Last week, two Russian warships visited Tobruk for what was described as a working visit. The warships - the missile cruiser Varyag and the frigate Admiral Shaposhnikov - were said to be in eastern Libya for collaboration in areas of training, technical and logistical support. A recent report on All Eyes on Wagner, a Russian-monitoring project by the Geneva-based NGO Impact Initiatives, illustrated Russia’s expanding footprint in eastern Libya. The Russian navy has delivered at least five shipments of weapons and some 1,800 Russian soldiers in the past three months, according to the report.

In an interview on Saturday with the U.S- owned North Africa Alhurra TV channel, the State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller expressed concern over Russia’s growing presence in Libya.

“The U.S commits to respect Libya’s sovereignty and supporting the UN-facilitated dialogue to unify the country through political means,” Miller commented.