BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Libya's internationally recognized government said Italian vessels entered the country's territorial waters early Sunday without permission, a claim disputed by Italy.
Libya vowed to use "all means" to protect its sovereignty and said three Italian vessels were spotted off the coast of the eastern city of Benghazi. The ships are likely part of an international effort to stem the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe.
The Italian Defense Ministry on Sunday denied that they had entered Libyan waters.
"All the Italian military ships present in the Mediterranean operate in international waters, respecting the limits established by treaties," the ministry said in a brief statement entitled "no violation of Libyan territorial waters."
Last month, the U.N. authorized European Union countries to inspect vessels and use force to disrupt migrant smuggling on the high seas off Libya, but not in its waters.
Libya slid into chaos following the 2011 toppling and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Smugglers have exploited the turmoil, sending tens of thousands of migrants off in rickety boats to Europe.