Libya’s navy has seized an oil tanker suspected of illegally loading fuel and arrested its Greek crew, a navy spokesman said Thursday. The tanker was intercepted on Wednesday evening off Libya’s western coast, about eight nautical miles from the Abu Kamash oil plant, said spokesman Ayoub Kacem.
Abu Kamash is the site of one of the oil-rich North African country’s largest petrochemical complexes, west of Tripoli and near the Tunisian border. Libya’s western coast is a departure point for the smuggling of heavily subsidised gasoline to neighbours such as Tunisia and Malta, where retail prices are much higher.
The Togolese-registered ship, Lamar, was spotted in Libyan territorial waters “without authorisation from Libya… and in a suspicious area where fuel smuggling operations take place,” Kacem said.
“Many ships have been seized in the past in this same area whilst illegally loading fuel,” he said.
He said LAMAR was owned by a Greek company, and that its eight Greek crew members had been arrested and their case referred to the general prosecutor.
Officials have vowed to clamp down on fuel smuggling but seizures of tankers and arrests of crew members are rare, given the small Libyan naval forces’ limited capacities.
Reuters shipping tracking data showed the LAMAR had been in Tunisian waters before switching off its transponder on March 7, a usual tactic of smugglers.