Gard: Tankers Face Risk of Arrest off Libya

Libyan coast guard patrol boat (file image)

Published May 9, 2018 7:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday, leading marine insurer Gard warned that tanker operators should take care in planning voyages to Libya and should make sure that their crews are informed of the risk of arrest.

According to Gard, almost 300 seafarers have been arrested by the Tripoli-based government of Libya on charges of oil smuggling over the last several years, and they remain in prison awaiting trial. Black market petroleum smuggling is a serious problem in Libya, and as the government attempts to crack down on illegal activity, foreign vessels may find themselves caught up in enforcement actions (whether they are aware of an alleged offense or not). 

Tankers suspected of calling certain loading areas in Western Libya risk being boarded by the Libyan Navy, Gard said, and the vessel and crew could be detained for further investigations. The loading areas currently at risk are mostly located offshore between Zawiya and the Tunisian border. This is a serious matter, regardless of guilt or innocence: investigations can take years, and in the meanwhile, the crew will remain in indefinite detention and the tanker will be detained at anchor. 

Gard advises that tankers trading to and from Libya should exercise caution and stay within established sea lanes for the authorized Libyan ports. Most arrests have been made for tankers operating off the coast. After departing, maintaining a distance of 40 nm off the coast will reduce risk, as most detentions have occurred within 25 nm of shore, Gard said. In unrelated incidents related to human smuggling, the Libyan Coast Guard has asserted the right to conduct law enforcement operations well outside of Libyan territorial seas.

In addition, Gard recommends:

- Obtaining a certificate of origin indicating that the shippers are indeed the National Oil Company (NOC) or an approved legal entity of the NOC. The Libyan NOC has the sole rights and control of all oil exports from the country.

- Establishing the legitimacy of cargo interests and whether they can legitimately ship oil cargoes from Libya. 

- Tankers delivering fuel oil should sail directly out of Libyan waters without deviation or delay after port operations are finished, as such deviations or delays may be construed as suspicious by the authorities.

Libya's governance is fragmented, and the U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli only controls part of the western half of the country. Disputes between competing factions over oil revenue have resulted in significant disruption for the nation's oil industry, and to corresponding challenges for operators. Smuggling - including the illegal re-exportation of imported petroleum products - is widespread.  

The penalty for suspected smuggling has occasionally been worse than detention. In October, the Libyan coast guard shelled the product tanker Goeast off Abu Kammash, Libya, near the Tunisian border. Libyan officials alleged that the vessel had been taking on fuel from an offshore loading pipeline.