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Icon representing Maritime Information Warfare Conference 2019 -London -November 18-19
Maritime Information Warfare Conference 2019 -London -November 18-19

November 18th 2019
Icon representing CYPnaval Conference - October 2nd - Cyprus
CYPnaval Conference - October 2nd - Cyprus

October 2nd 2019
Icon representing CSOA First Response Report: Iran Seizes British Tanker
CSOA First Response Report: Iran Seizes British Tanker

July 20th 2019

Libya, shipping and oil

March 10th 2017
While the recent focus of coverage in Libya has been on Field Marshal Haftar, strongman and leader of the Libyan National Army, which controls much of the east of the country, Libya and its TTW remain a risky place for the Merchant Marine.

As well as potential SAR operations for migrant boats in the Mediterranean and Libyan TTW, shipping must now come to terms with the fact that Libya’s Coast Guard and LNA assets may seize their vessels on an apparent whim.

So far this year, at least three ships have been seized by LNA militia. Around February 19th, forces loyal to Haftar took control of an Eukor car carrier at Ras Al-Hilal port in the east of the country. The 12 Filipino crew were taken into custody and the ship held. The LNA media stated that the ship did not take heed of their patrol’s calls to stop and that it was sailing in a military ‘no entry’ zone. The ship was ultimately released and continued its transit to Misrata.

Then, on February 24th, the oil tanker, Haci Telli, was seized by LNA forces at Zuwarah port. The reason given was a disputed oil purchase, with the LNA stating that the Haci Telli’s owners owed the port some $433,000. At the time of writing, the ship owner had paid around $280,000 towards the bill and the ship and crew continue to be held some two miles offshore.

The latest incident, which occurred this week, saw a Russian general cargo vessel seized by the Libyan Coast Guard’s Zawaiya Squad. According to reports, the MV Merle was heading towards Zuwara Port to load scrap metal (apparently a booming ‘illegal’ trade in Libya) without permission of the Libyan authorities. As a result, the ship has been seized and the 7 crew arrested. Given Haftar and the LNA are currently trying to court Russia, we would expect this to be resolved quickly.

Ashore, the situation was calm until last Friday, when the elements of the Benghazi Defence Brigade (BDB), a loose militia made up of various groups, tried to take over the oil terminals at Sidre and Ras Lanuf, held by Haftar’s LNA forces. Despite fierce fighting, the LNA were unable to protect the two terminals and the BDB has now ceded control to the UN-backed government’s Petroleum Fuel Guard, the outfit Haftar’s men originally dispossessed.

Whoever controls the oil crescent (the series of coastal terminals) controls Libya, as Haftar is well aware. He has apparently massed a force of 5,000 to retake the terminals, but they have yet to strike.

The ongoing instability and lack of constructive dialogue between the two governments in the country mean that it is still a very dangerous place for shipping to visit. With both sides and two sets of rules, CSOA recommends that any vessels transiting Libyan waters has received clearance from all parties to ensure there are no major risks to ship and crew.