NNA - In recent media reports and interviews, former Lebanese Defence Minister Yacoub al-Sarraf spoke about the issue of the Rhousos ship and the role of UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force (MTF) MTF in relation to its capability of conducting inspections on board of vessels entering Lebanese territorial waters.
So, what is exactly the role of UNIFIL’s MTF?
Responding to this question, UNIFIL Spokesperson Andrea Tenenti told the National News Agency (NNA) that “UNIFIL does not comment on media reports, but let me clarify the role of UNIFIL MTF and their activities in support of the Lebanese Navy.”
“UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force (MTF) will mark the 17th anniversary of its establishment on 15 October. Since 2006, it has supported the Lebanese Navy in several specific responsibilities: monitoring Lebanon’s territorial waters, securing the coastline, and preventing the unauthorized entry of weapons by sea,” he said.
“The MTF supports the Lebanese Navy mainly by hailing ships entering Lebanese waters. Hailing is a process of contacting incoming ships to verify information that the ship has provided about itself and its cargo to public maritime databases. The Lebanese Navy also hails ships, as the role of UNIFIL’s MTF is one of support,” Tenenti calrified.
“Further action might be needed after a ship is hailed, for example if some of the information is missing or doesn’t match what is listed in the public database, or if the ship does not appear on the list of vessels expected to transit, enter, or leave Lebanese territorial waters on a given day. In that case, ship may be referred to Lebanese authorities for inspection. Inspection and boarding could be carried out by the Lebanese Navy, other security agencies, or customs officials, but this is up to the Lebanese authorities to decide. Lebanon is a sovereign country and as such only the Lebanese authorities can decide whether to carry out an inspection or allow a ship to dock at a Lebanese port. The MTF is ready to support in these tasks, but the Lebanese authorities have never asked and so the MTF has never physically inspected a ship. The MTF does receive some information about the results of any inspection but does not get information about the nature of any materials found unless there is a violation of Security Council Resolution 1701,” he noted.
The UNIFIL spokesperson pointed out that “UNIFIL MTF also supports the Lebanese Navy in training on different aspects of maritime security. This training is done at the request of the Lebanese Navy, according to what they need.”
“The eventual goal under Resolution 1701 is that the Lebanese Navy will eventually be able to assume all responsibilities for maritime security on their own, without support from UNIFIL’s MTF. In 2022, the MTF handed over the Maritime Interdiction Operations Command to the Lebanese Navy, which now decides which ships should be referred to Lebanese authorities for inspection,” Tenenti concluded.