The European Union Naval Force Mediterranean Operation IRINI has intercepted a vessel at sea, carrying the Zambian flag for being suspected of ferrying illegal arms, which is in violation of the Arms Embargo on Libya.

According to correspondence seen by News Diggers, the EU Naval Force Deputy Operation Commander, Rear admiral Jean-Michel Martinet, has demanded that the Zambian government explains the nationalities of the people operating the vessel and to also grant authority for a search to be conducted.

And in response to the demand, the Zambian government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has explained that the vessel was being operated by 11 Russian nationals, led by a man identified as Andrei Buchek.

The European Union Naval Force Mediterranean Operation IRINI was launched on March 31, 2020 with the aim of enforcing the United Nations arms embargo on Libya, necessitated by the second Libyan civil war. Operation IRINI is a European Union military operation under the umbrella of the Common Security and Defense Policy.

Writing to the Zambian government in his letter, Rear admiral Martinet described the vessel intercepted around May 10, 2021 as a general cargo MV GAUJA, flying the Zambian flag and registered in Zambia with identification number 7612474.

He stated that the vessel whose ports of origin and destination were Agadir (Morocco) to Misrata, (Libya) was suspected to be transporting illegal arms and needed to be searched so that the said articles, if found, could be destroyed.

“Reason for request: the Operation Commander of operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI presents its compliments to the Republic of Zambia – Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and has the honour to request, acting in accordance with UNSC resolution 2292 (2016) and 2578 (2021), the authorisation to inspect MV GAUJA, flagged in Zambia, IMO number 7612474. The vessel is suspected of violating the arms embargo on Libya,” read the correspondence in part.

“According to UNSCR 2578 (2021) and UNSCR 2292 (2016) (par. 3-6), Operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI naval assets are allowed to inspect, seize, dispose and take further actions against vessels going to and coming from Libya which they have reasonable grounds to believe are carrying arms or related materiel to or from Libya directly or indirectly. Actions are admitted providing that good faith efforts are made by Member States and regional organisations to obtain the consent of the vessel’s flag state prior to using the authority.”

Rear admiral Martinet asked the Zambian government to explain the nationalities of the people operating the vessel.

“You are hereby requested to confirm nationality to the following detailed contacts within Operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI: Mario Conserva, Stanislas Frenzel and Marika Jarvenpaa. Should you confirm the ship flies your flag, you are hereby asked to authorise Op. EUNAVFOR MED IRINI to conduct the following actions: Inspection of the vessel (stop, board, visit and search); If it is confirmed that the vessel is carrying arms and related material, to seize and dispose such items; Divert the ship to harbour,” read Rear admiral Martinet’s letter.

“The request is made on the basis that action taken pursuant to any authorisation provided will be carried out only by warships or military aircraft, or other ships or aircraft clearly marked and identifiable as being on government service and authorized to that effect. A reply is requested within 4 (four) hours of the sending of this message; after mentioned deadline, intervention takes place under the provisions of UNSCR 2578 (2021) and UNSCR 2292 (2016).”

But the Zambian government has now explained that the said “illegal vessel” was being operated by some identified Russians.

The government letter dated July 13, 2021 did not, however, give details about the cargo on board the intercepted vessel.

“Reference is made to the MV GAUJA- IMO 7612474, an illegal vessel that recently flew on the Zambian flag on the Mediterranean channel. The Ministry wishes to inform your office that new information has been obtained on the ownership of the vessel as well as its crew. In this regard, it has been established that the crew comprised of eleven (11) Russian nationals, led by Mr. Andrei Buchek, while the owner of the vessel is a company known as Baltrechflot based in Petersburg, Russia. Kindly find attached hereto, copies of particulars of the crew for ease of reference,” read the response from the Zambian government without disclosing what the vessel was transporting.

The named Russian Nationals are: Andrei Buchek, Alexander Samotoev, Artur Morozoz, Iurii Sokolov, Vasilii Podgomyi, Vladlmir Sokolov, Vladislav Konstantinov, Sergei Voronko, Maksim Balandin, Anatolii Mendelson, Aleksei Fomochkin.