Libya-Egypt Border Suspicions Hit Port's Trade

By MarEx 2014-03-04 13:08:00

The port of Tobruk prior to the Libyan civil war

Mutual suspicion with neighbor Egypt threatens to halt a revival in the fortunes of Libya's eastern port of Tobruk, officials there said.

New restrictions on travelers and goods passing the nearby land border are hitting container volumes, said Nasser Zgogo, operations manager at the port.

"This will have a negative impact," he said.

Both countries have sought to limit travelers passing the land border. Egypt is worried that Islamist militants smuggle weapons over the border to help supporters of toppled President Mohamed Mursi. Libya is concerned that emigrants from Egypt and sub-Saharan countries come on forged visas.

Once a backwater neglected under Muammar Gaddafi, Tobruk's port has seen a rise in activity as foreign goods enter a new market. Western products such as perfumes, quality fashion and food as well as cars were hard to get in Libya's once state-dominated economy.

In 2013, Tobruk's port saw around 220 ships discharging 622,427 tons of goods, port data showed. This compares with 50,801 tons in 2011 and 245,472 tons in 2012.

The rise comes partly from trade with Egypt where importers have used Tobruk and then bring their goods by truck across the border to avoid the busy Egyptian port of Alexandria and pay less in duties, officials told Reuters during a visit to the port.

Tribesmen have also kidnapped Egyptian truck drivers to demand ransom, while police found last month seven Egyptians killed execution-style on a beach near Benghazi.

Tobruk, also home to a 110,000 barrels a day oil port now closed by a protest, is Libya's fifth-largest commercial port, Zgogo said.

By Ulf Laessing (C) Reuters 2014.