Fifty-four Tunisian fishermen are currently being held by Libyan authorities after being accused of having strayed into Libyan territorial waters last week.
The men were originally detained off the coast of Zawia, and have since been brought to Tripoli to face charges. Tunisian officials have confirmed that they are aware of the case and that negotiations to secure their release are ongoing.
A Media representative for the Ministry of Agriculture and Maritime Affairs, Anis Ben Rayana told Tunisia Live that multiple government agencies are involved in negotiations to secure the fishermens’ peaceful release “and bring them home safely to their families.”
A representative for the Libyan embassy in Tunisia was unable to be reached before the time of publication.
The arrests came after four industrial fishing boats carrying more than 50 Tunisian fishermen–most of whom were from the industrial coastal city of Sfax– were detected sailing in Libyan regional waters last Tuesday. According to Mostapha Abdelkebir, a member of the Arab Institute for Human Rights who frequently works as an intermediary in kidnapping cases, Libyan security agents fired shots at the Tunisian vessels after ordering them to stop. Libyan officials then seized the boats and escorted them to the Libyan port of Zouara. The fishermen have since been charged with illegally entering Libyan territory.
According to Ben Rayana from the Ministry of Agriculture and Maritime Affairs, Tunisian fishermen do occasionally stray into Libyan waters unintentionally, especially in times of poor weather. Abdelkebir echoed these comments, confirming that “the maritime borders between Tunisia and Libya are quite hazy.”
Accidental incursions aside, Tunisian fishermen are also known to frequently stray into Libyan waters where fish stocks are known to be higher, Abdelkebir said. Tunisian incursions into Libyan waters increased, according to Abdelkebir in the years following the fall of Gaddafi as many fishermen have since left the industry.
In February of this year, 70 Tunisian fishermen were released after being detained in Zawia under similar circumstances. Libyan authorities also detained four Tunisian fishing boats in December.
President of the Center of Mediterranean and International Studies Ahmed Idriss, explained the development as an extension of the “current chaos” in Libya. Prior to 2011, he said, ”it was known that the water was protected. No Libyan or Tunisian authorities would cross the borders into the other”.
Tunisia has also witnessed a spike in the number of citizen kidnappings in Libya in recent years. Further to the abduction of ten diplomats in July, fifty Tunisians were kidnapped in November of last year. The cases of the two Tunisian journalists, Nadhir Ktari and Sofiene Chourabi, who disappeared in Libya remain unsolved.
Rahma is preparing a master thesis in Anglo-American studies. She is interested in politics and foreign affairs. Since the outbreak of the Tunisian revolution, she volunteered for several Tunisian associations such as ATIDE, Sawty and others. She writes articles about post-revolution Tunisia.