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UAE company sold ex-Irish naval ship to Libya's Khalifa Haftar: Report

UAE company made 'deliberate' attempts to hide vessel transfer to Libyan militia leader, Irish Times reports
Khalifa Haftar's LNA militia launched assault on Libyan capital Tripoli in April (AFP/File photo)

A decommissioned Irish naval patrol ship has become the property of Libyan militia leader Khalifa Haftar, the Irish Times reported, raising renewed concerns about violations of an arms embargo on Libya.

The LÉ Aisling, now named Al Karama, was decommissioned and stripped of its weaponry, as well as defensive and specialist naval equipment before being sold at auction to a Dutch company in March 2017, the newspaper said.

Citing a report filed by the Expert Panel on Libya to the UN Security Council, it reported that the Dutch company bought the vessel for $122,000 before selling it about a year later to a company from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for $525,000.

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The UAE company told the vendors that the ship would be used for "counter-piracy" operations near Egypt, the Irish newspaper said.

The UN expert group said that once the UAE company had ownership of the vessel, its registration was transferred to Panama, where it was described as a "pleasure yacht".

"This was a deliberate mis-declaration by the new UAE owners," the group said.

The UAE company later had the ship removed from the Panama registry, saying it was bound for demolition, the Irish Times reported.

"This was another indication of a deliberate attempt to disguise the transfer of the vessel," the UN experts said.

Soon after, the ship was sold - in breach of a UN arms embargo - to a company in Libya for $1.5m, the Irish Times said, citing the UN report. 

MaritimeTraffic's latest public information on the ship's whereabouts dates back to May 2018 and shows that the vessel, registered under a Panama flag as a pleasure craft, was idling off the coast of Benghazi.

Arms embargo

According to the report, the ship is now owned by Haftar, a dual Libyan-US citizen who lived in Virginia for 20 years and is now the leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

The LNA has been conducting an assault on the Libyan capital Tripoli since April. 

The UN found that the ship has been refitted with cannons similar to the ones it had when previously owned by the Irish naval service, the Irish Times said.

It was not clear if the weaponry was added before or after being sold to Haftar, who has been trying to wrestle control of Libya from the country's UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

The LNA had previously made inroads in Libya's south, but its Tripoli offensive soon stalemated.

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Libya has been under a UN arms embargo since a civil war that resulted in the ousting of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi erupted in 2011.

According to the UN report seen by the Irish Times, the sale of the ship to Haftar is in direct violation of the arms embargo.

But the ship's sale is only one of many such embargo breaches, according to the UN report.

In recent years, multiple reports have shown that Haftar's forces are receiving military support from the UAE, as well as Egypt, among other countries.

The Irish Times reported that a spokeswoman for Ireland's Department of Defence said it had no "trailing obligations" in relation to the ship.

The spokeswoman said the vessel's resale was a matter for its purchaser.

The department also was not contacted by the UN's expert panel about the ship, the spokeswoman said.