Authorities in Italy arrested Jouseff Tartiussi, the captain of a Lebanese-flagged cargo ship on suspicion of international arms trafficking Wednesday while they investigate if the vessel transported tanks, rockets and other weapons from Turkey to Libya.
The captain is under investigation for allegedly transferring military goods to Libya with as-yet unidentified Turkish military officials in violation of a United Nations arms embargo, Italian prosecutor Franceso Pinto told The Associated Press.
Italian authorities launched their probe based on allegations a crew member made after the cargo ship arrived in the port city of Genoa earlier this month.
The cargo ship, the Bana, turned up on the radar of French authorities not long before it reached Genoa on Feb. 2. The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle shadowed the vessel in late January.
The Lebanese crew member who blew the whistle in Italy alleged that tanks and other vehicles that could be used for military purposes were loaded onto the Bana at a Turkish port and then transported to Tripoli, the Libyan capital.
The sailor, who told Italian border police he was seeking political asylum, said the Bana allegedly sailed without cargo from Libya to Genoa. The 40-year–old ship’s hold is designed to carry vehicles.
According to a report in Genoa daily newspaper Il Secolo XIX, the asylum-seeking sailor alleged that some 10 Turkish agents, including military officials, traveled on the cargo ship from Mersin, Turkey, to Tripoli, staying in the hold near armored vehicles.
Pinto told the AP the sailor provided photographs showing vehicles in the ship’s hold and that his application for political asylum in Italy is under consideration.
“He contends he discovered this trafficking” of arms, the prosecutor said.
If true, the alleged actions would violate the U.N. embargo aimed in part at ending nine years of fighting between rival factions seeking to control energy-rich Libya.
The Turkish government recently ratcheted up its backing of Sarraj’s government, promising military support and sending to Libya hundreds of Syrian fighters. The Syrians included militants affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey would continue aiding Sarraj’s government to “establish dominance” over all of Libya.