Rome: A group of Sicilian fishermen held in Libya since September have been released, Italy’s prime minister and foreign minister said Thursday after visiting Benghazi to welcome them personally.
“Our fishermen are free,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio posted on Facebook, alongside a picture of the 18 men detained for more than three months for allegedly fishing in Libyan territorial waters.
“In a few hours they will be able to hug their families and loved ones.”
He added: “The government continues to firmly support the stabilisation process in Libya. This is what Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and I reiterated to Haftar today during our talks in Benghazi.”
The fishermen were accused of fishing inside Libya’s protected fishing area and entering a military zone by forces of strongman Khalifa Haftar, who controls Benghazi and is waging war against the UN-recognised government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in the west.
Conte also tweeted a picture of the eight Italians, six Tunisians, two Indonesians and two Senegalese who have been freed, with the comment “Have a good trip home”.
The fishermen of the town of Mazara del Vallo in Sicily have for generations relied on these Mediterranean waters for their livelihoods but see their futures increasingly threatened.
As fish stocks have dwindled and trawler capabilities improved, their boats have sailed further from port in recent decades in search of the elusive, lucrative catch - but into waters over which Libya has claimed sovereignty.