It all started on September 1, when nine boats left the port of Mazara del Vallo in western Sicily to fish for red shrimp off the coast of Libya. Arriving on the spot, the fishermen of the Antarctic and Medina boats were surrounded by the border guards of Marshal Khalifa Haftar under the pretext that they had entered the territorial waters of Libya. According to the Italian press, a total of 18 fishermen were detained, namely eight Sicilians, six Tunisians, two Indonesians and two Senegalese.

This incident has practically rekindled the “shrimp war” waged for years by Libya and Italy.

Looking for red shrimp, which sell for as much as 50 euros a kilogram in Italy, Sicilian fishermen arrive just outside Libya. Although they assure that it is not close to 20 kilometers of coastline, ie the internationally recognized maritime border, the Libyans under the Haftar regime claim that fishermen enter their territorial waters. He argues his accusation of a 2005 order by former dictator Muammar Gaddafi to expand the fishing area to nearly 140 kilometers from shore. Based on this order despite international norms and the general chaos in Libya, Haftar’s border guards react quite hostilely, sometimes resorting to firing at ships.

According to the Sicilian government, 300 local fishermen became prisoners in this conflict, while 150 ships were confiscated. The damage is estimated at over 100 million euros.

Rome, for its part, has given up sending military ships to protect its fishermen, thus avoiding accusations of involvement in the war in Libya.

In this context, the families of the 18 fishermen declare themselves abandoned by the government. The locals also organize protests to put pressure on the authorities.

“We feel abandoned with our pain and without emotional support from the political leaders in power. We are also disappointed by Brussels’ silence on this issue, because they too must protect our rights and our citizens. We deserve answers “, says Cristina Amabilino, the wife of one of the fishermen detained on September 1.

While the Vatican calls for the release of the fishermen and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio gives assurances that he is concerned about their health, the Rome press writes that Marshal Haftar will let them go home only in an exchange of prisoners, seeking the release of four Libyans arrested in 2015 in Italy and sentenced to 30 years in prison for trafficking in human beings.