(B2) The Cirkin, this Turkish cargo ship accused of violating embargo on arms to Libya, is not at its first attempt. And the 'clashes' with the Turkish navy do not date from June 10. The French frigates were the direct witness
A first clash at the end of May
It is between May 19 and 24 that the story begins according to the French newspaper Current values *, which reveals the information (a little earlier even according to our information, see box). Data valid, and confirmed by B2 by a French military source. Flying the Tanzanian flag, the Circin, is then in stopover in Turkey at Haydarpasa according to its AIS signal (anti-collision). Declaring to go to the port of Gabès in Tunisia, he cast off and cut off his AIS (n° 5IM389), only two days after leaving Turkish waters. A suspicious sign for maritime surveillance specialists. Turkish navy ships ascend simultaneously following the same trajectory. Highly suspicious sign. It is very rare for a merchant ship to be escorted from a distance by warships, especially in the quiet Mediterranean. Except for very sensitive goods...
A request for control by the Forbin which comes to an end
The French air defense frigate, the Forbin (D-620), which is back from a mission in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH / Agenor - and not from Irini as mentioned by our colleague), and is going back to Toulon, its base, takes off its on-board helicopter 'Panther ' to verify the identity of the vessel. She questions the commander of the Tanzanian ship by radio on May 27 at the end of the day. No follow-up... But the French sailors observed that " two frigates of the Turkish army, which had hitherto stood at a distance, approached at high speed, and interposed themselves between the freighter and the Forbin “, according to our colleague Louis de Raguenel. It is the Turkish navy which responds to the French: no inspection possible.
Ultra-sensitive US-made equipment
The French frigate is obliged to give up the inspection, except to come into direct conflict with the Turkish frigate. But the freighter remains under close surveillance. THE Circin indeed changed its destination, returning to Gabès (Tunisia) during the overflight by the 'Panther', then resuming its initial destination (Misrata-Tripoli), once it had left. What to sharpen the attention. And indeed, a day later, the Circin arrived in Libya, in Misrata, a port dependent on the government of national unity in Tripoli, on the morning of May 28. And its cargo is anything but innocent: “ several semi-trailer vehicles transporting material under tarpaulins, armored vehicles and heavy armaments. Ultra-sensitive American equipment – according to our colleague –: M-60 tanks, anti-aircraft Hawk missiles and… Syrian mercenaries belonging in particular to the terrorist group Sultan Murad. » The freighter is now marked in red letters on all screens.
A tracked ship
All means of reconnaissance, in particular satellite, according to our information, are mobilized to track the cargo. In fact, when the Circin returns to the port of Haydarpasa (near Istanbul) on June 2, everything is noted. On June 5 and 6, several vehicle carriers were loaded on board. On Sunday June 7 at 13:45 p.m. (local time), he cast off the moorings to cross the Aegean Sea. Official destination… Gabès, in Tunisia (as in May). Here again, the Turkish Navy is on the lookout, ready to ensure the protection of the cargo ship.
... but still escorted by the Turkish Navy
At anchor in Marmaris (Turkey), the Turkish frigate Gokova (F-496)" goes up the Aegean Sea to escort the freighter ". Then a second Turkish frigate the TCG Oruçreis (F-245) joined it, taking over. Fighter jets loom off the Greek island of Psara in Greek airspace. An old Turkish habit it is true, but a rather unusual mark for a 'simple' merchant ship. This is when the Greek frigate, the Spetses, by order of the command of Irini, Wednesday (June 10). Without success. Like the French ship in May, she receives the same response 'protection from the Turkish navy and is forced to let it go (Read: cargo under Turkish escort suspected of violating the arms embargo). The Circin unloads on June 11, in Misrata, its cargo which is far from being medical only - as affirmed by the Turks to the Europeans (read: Operation Irini: a very limited possibility of inspecting ships) — but included military materials, arms and ammunition included.
A radar illumination of the French frigate, extremely rare
The Courbet (F-712) which is maneuvering in the Mediterranean as part of the mission Sea Guardian of NATO (together with an Italian ship and a Turkish ship!), also made contact with the freighter on the same day (Wednesday, June 10). He approaches it to board it. He takes it badly. The Turkish frigate Gökova immediately 'ignites' the French frigate. More exactly, it proceeds to a radar illumination ". This three times, according to the French. A maneuver, which goes beyond the simple warning shot, according to our information. It is indeed intended to make an ultimate location, before a shot, in order to guide a possible missile. A kind of last call, electronic, before the real fire. A rare fact. At least between Allies. The Turkish sailors are also in firing position, helmets on their heads behind their guns.
Turkish Defense Attaché summoned
This process, used quite regularly by the Russians, who are playing a 'cold war' game with the NATO allies, is totally incongruous from an Ally to say the least. " totally unusual », confirms an officer. " I don't remember such an incident. », at least in such a voluntary way. Needless to say, in the official corridors, the Turkish attitude is beginning to irritate. The Elysée is seizing the case, the ministers too. The Turkish defense attaché is summoned to Balard, the headquarters of the French Ministry of Defence, for an explanation. It's not war... but it's (very) far from the cordial agreement.
On the agenda of the meeting of defense ministers
The phone heats up. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias is in Paris to see his counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian on Monday (June 15). This topic is discussed. Florence Parly speaks by telephone with the Secretary General of NATO on Tuesday. And, for sure, this case will be on the agenda of the meeting of defense ministers which begins this Wednesday (June 17) afternoon, by videoconference. To the great displeasure of the Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, who fears these blows of tension on the Alliance...
(*) Located to the right of the opinion press chessboard, this weekly is known to be well informed on defense issues
Traffic to Libya under surveillance
The arrival of ships circumventing the embargo from Turkey has been closely watched for several months now. Long before May. Thus during the journey of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, at the end of January, on a Foch mission, to the eastern Mediterranean (read: A carrier group around the Charles-de-Gaulle deploys, with Europeans, episodic), aerial surveys make it possible to identify landings of suspicious materials in Libyan ports, in particular loaded with vehicles that are not quite civilians, and ships. History does not say whether the Circin was in the lot. But what is certain is that certain ships are now under the magnifying glass of French intelligence, like European surveillance.