By Sami Zaptia.
London, 18 December 2020:
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said yesterday that the Italian fishermen arrested by eastern Libyan patrol boats had been released.
The announcement came after Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, and his foreign minister Luigi Di Maio met Khalifa Hafter in Benghazi yesterday. Hafter is still in control in eastern Libya and the patrol boats that arrested the fishermen are under his control.
It will be recalled that 18 fishermen, mainly Italian but including Tunisians, were seized by Libyan patrol boats in September while fishing in the Mediterranean. They were accused of fishing in Libya’s territorial waters, a claim that Italy disputes.
Libya’s extended territorial waters unrecognized internationally
Since the Qaddafi era, Libya has laid claim to unilaterally extended territorial waters to 74 nautical miles offshore from the internationally recognized 12 miles. Italy claims the fishermen were fishing within these waters.
Great optics for Hafter
Beyond the optics of being visited by the Italian prime minister and foreign minister, it is unclear what was the quid pro quo Hafter obtained for releasing the fishermen. The optics do, however, remind all that Hafter still has influence in eastern Libya.
Media reports had claimed that Haftar had demanded the release of four Libyans arrested in October in Sicily in 2015.
UNSMIL announced yesterday it was ”pleased by the release” of the 18 fishermen who had spent 107 days in captivity in Benghazi.