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Mebo off  Libya - History (2)

After arriving off Benghazi test transmissions were resumed on all three wavebands, but after two days engineers were instructed to turn off the medium and shortwave outlets, leaving only FM to carry the five hours of nightly broadcasts. After about ten days the Mebo II and the Angela entered Benghazi Harbour and engineers were told to keep the medium and shortwave transmitters silent until arrangements had been made for Libyan frequencies to be allocated to them.

Despite this instruction a number of relays of the FM test transmissions were broadcast on shortwave in December 1977 and early January 1988, announced simply as "a programme of international music."

On 15th January 1978 the, by now regular, programme did not start as usual at 7.00pm local time and announcements broadcast later in the evening indicated that the Mebo II was actually sailing away from Benghazi Harbour. The radio ship eventually arrived off Tripoli once again on 19th January and broadcasts, consisting of a relay of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah Broadcasting Corporation (SPLAJBC) in English, were made until 8.30pm local time. These programmes consisted of news bulletins, music and talks about international affairs.

On some occasions once the domestic relay had finished western pop music was played until another relay, this time in Arabic, commenced later in the evening. Broadcasts settled into a regular pattern of relays of the land-based domestic service in Libya with transmissions all simulcast on shortwave), medium wave and FM.

On 5th April 1978 the Mebo II and the Angela became the official property of the Libyan Government  and were re-named El Fatah and Almasira respectively. The two ships were dry docked in Tripoli and repainted, the former Mebo II in red and cream and the former Angela, in blue, white and black. Whilst in dry dock both vessels were manned by between six and twelve armed guards at all times.

A Libyan Navy spokesman said that when they had finished with the ships it was planned to take them out into the Mediterranean and sink them to prevent anybody else using the radio transmitting facilities. The vessels were not to be sold again because the Libyans stated they did not want them to fall into the hands of any "undesirable people", probably a reference to the Israelis.

A foreign language service of the Libyan Broadcasting service SPLAJBC started from El Fatah on 11th June 1978. Each day six Arab announcers, three French speaking and three English speaking, travelled out to the ship in Tripoli Harbour to present live programmes. The announcers relied on radio engineers Robin Adcroft and 'Printz' to operate the technical equipment for them and they were the only two Europeans allowed on board the radio ship - even announcers broadcasting on the European Service of SPLAJBC were required to pre-record their programmes in landbased studios. The El Fatah was treated as a classified military vessel and no one was officially allowed to talk about its existence.

This broadcasting arrangement lasted only until the end of June 1978 when plans were announced for a new daily service, consisting of readings from the Holy Koran, to be broadcast using the 100 kW medium wave transmitter between 6.00am and 6.00pm (GMT).

On 14th August 1978 Robin Adcroft and 'Printz' decided to make a clandestine broadcast on shortwave to commemorate the eleventh anniversary of the introduction of the British Marine etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act. This transmission took  place between 5.00am and 6.00am (GMT) before the broadcasts of Holy Koran readings started and were the last English language programmes made from the Mebo II.

With the two ships becoming classified military establishments very little information is available about their use after late 1978 when the two remaining European radio engineers had been replaced. It is known that the El Fatah was dry docked  in Malta during June 1979 being overhauled and re-painted. She returned to Libya in September 1979, having been repainted in the Libyan national colour, green, and recommenced transmissions of SPLAJBC shortly afterwards.

There were a number of reports of sightings of the El Fatah after that date. She was reported variously to have run aground on rocks off Malta and also been sighted in Portugal during 1981 and 1982 in connection with a possible use by a breakaway group from the Radio Caroline organisation anxious to return that station to the air.

However, all these reports were inaccurate and the El Fatah continued to be used to relay programmes of the SPLAJBC until sometime in 1984 after which she was, as predicted by the Libyan authorities some years earlier, towed into the Mediterranean and sunk as the result of being used as target practice by the Libyan Air Force. It is believed that the former Mebo (Angela) also suffered the same fate.

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Final broadcast from the El Fatah (Mebo II)