20/10/2020 04:10:00

Pope expresses support for detained fishermen in Libya

 Pope Francis expressed support on Sunday for 18 fishermen held in Libya, weighing in on a standoff between Italy and the administration of Khalifa Haftar, one of the North African country’s two rival leaders.

“I want to say a word of encouragement and support for the fishermen who have been held in Libya for more than a month, and for their families (who) are hoping to be able to embrace their dear ones soon,” Francis said at his weekly blessing in St. Peter’s Square.

Libyan patrol boats detained two Sicilian fishing boats on Sept. 1 for allegedly fishing in territorial waters and brought the crews to Benghazi in Libya. The crews, made up of Italians and Tunisians, were accused of operating in Libya’s territorial waters.

The fishing grounds have been disputed since 2005, when Libya’s then ruler, Muammar Qaddafi, unilaterally extended Libyan territorial waters to 74 nautical miles offshore from 12. Haftar, who controls eastern Libya, is trying to enforce this.

Italian newspapers have reported that Gen. Haftar wants Italy to hand over four Libyan nationals convicted of human trafficking in return for freeing the fishermen. Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told parliament on Thursday that such an exchange would be “unacceptable.”

“Our fishermen are being held by a Libyan party not recognised by the Italian government, the European Union or the United Nations,” Di Maio told the Senate during question time. “It is our aim to bring them home as soon as possible,” he said.
Concern has mounted in Italy over the fate of the men – eight Italians, six Tunisians, two Indonesians and two Senegalese.
Di Maio said the men appeared to have been detained over the alleged violation of a “protected fishing zone,” an area of sea extending 74 miles from the coast and unilaterally claimed by Libya in 2005 as its own.