The Italian navy said Friday it freed a Sicilian fishing boat that had been seized earlier in the day by armed men off the coast of Libya, in what was thought to be a dispute about fishing rights.

The operation was conducted by military personnel operating in the area on migrant rescue duty. The statement did not say whether the Italian military encountered the armed men, but a Sicilian commercial fishing cooperative said the seven crew members were on their way back to port and appeared to be unharmed.

“The situation remains very serious and the level of alert for our fishermen is very high,” said Giovanni Tumbiolo, president of the COSVAP consortium, which is based in the Sicilian port of Mazara del Vallo and includes 350 fishing vessels. He said it appeared to be an act of piracy related to a continuing dispute with Libya over fishing rights, and not related to smuggling of migrants from Libya to Europe. […]