MILAN (Reuters) – Italian authorities have arrested the captain of a Lebanese-flagged cargo ship which was seized in the port of Genoa on suspicion of trafficking arms to Libya, including tanks and artillery, the city’s chief prosecutor said on Friday.
Any deliveries of weapons to Libya would be in violation of a United Nations embargo, although U.N. officials say the embargo has been subject to frequent violations.
The vessel, the Bana, was blocked by police in Genoa harbor on Feb. 3.
It was then searched after a ship’s officer told Italian authorities that weapons had been loaded onto the ship at the Turkish port of Mersin then transported to the Libyan capital Tripoli, a judicial source said.
The shipment included tanks, howitzers, machineguns and air defense systems, the source said.
The ship was originally scheduled to sail from Turkey to Genoa. But according to the informant, who has requested political asylum, Turkish military officers escorting the shipment had told the crew to declare that the stop in Tripoli was due to mechanical problem.
The Bana then continued without cargo to Genoa in order to load cars in the Italian port, chief prosecutor Franco Cozzi said.
The ship’s captain, Joussef Tartiussi, a Lebanese national, was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of trying to influence his crew’s testimony and concealing evidence, Cozzi said.
Tartiussi’s lawyer declined to comment.
The Turkish government backs Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of Libya’s internationally-recognized government, which has been fighting since last April for control of Tripoli against the Libyan National Army led by eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar.
Italian authorities are analyzing the ship’s navigation equipment and mobile phones of crew members with the aim of verifying the route followed by the Bana, whose transponders were turned off after it left the Turkish port, Cozzi said.
He said that even though the alleged trafficking had not taken place in Italian waters, it was still necessary to carry out the investigation because if it had occurred, any arms deliveries would be in violation of the U.N. embargo.
Reporting by Emilio Parodi; editing by James Mackenzie and Angus MacSwan