Speaking in Geneva recently, the head of Libya’s National Oil Company, Mustafa Sanalla, launched an impassioned plea to European partners to help his country combat fuel smuggling.
The practice of smuggling heavily
This illicit activity is by no means a new phenomenon in Libya. Cheap fuel has been seeping out of the country’s land borders with Tunisia, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Egypt for decades. However, the collapse of law and order and the propagation of armed militias after 2011 enabled various warlords, together with local and international high-level criminals, to
The most significant development in this respect has been the emergence of large-scale, sea-bound fuel smuggling to Europe and Turkey onboard fuel tankers: particularly off the west coast of Libya. Over the past seven years, the area has seen the development of significant syndicates headed by militia leaders with various interests in the black economy: from fuel smuggling to weapons, drugs, and human smuggling.
In spite of the country’s continuing problems, Sanalla’s plea for action is not an isolated example of Libya’s efforts to respond to this threat. For almost two years now, the Fuel and Gas Crisis Committee has been coordinating law enforcement activities against different forms of smuggling, forging partnerships with different able and willing national and local entities.
Similarly, in March, Attorney General Sadik Al-Sour published a list of 200 wanted smugglers, traffickers
This momentum is not to be taken for granted. The tentative push-back remains an overwhelmingly uphill struggle. Moreover, the general political situation remains as volatile as ever, especially with the uncertainty surrounding the health of the east’s strongman, Khalifa Haftar.
The island of Malta, which has been a recipient of fuel smuggled from Libya, is just 350 km north of Tripoli. Despite the proximity of this activity to European shores, and given evident self-interest in degrading such threats, the EU has not so far engaged seriously with willing Libyan partners on this issue. The outlook
In his speech in Geneva, Sanalla put his finger on this anomaly when he urged the EU to expand the mandate of its maritime policing initiative, Operation Sophia, to also include fuel smuggling. To date, Operation Sophia is tasked with training the Libyan Coastguard and navy to boost its capacity to intercept migrants, combat human smugglers and assist with the policing of the UN arms embargo on Libya.
Sources close to the operation say that behind the scenes, Sophia has been passing intelligence relevant to human smuggling to the Libyan authorities. But this sort of gesture is limited and largely anonymous. It has done nothing to mitigate Libyans’ anger over Europe’s expectation for the country to step up the policing of irregular
Following the seismic shock of the 4 March elections in Italy, it remains uncertain what the new Italian government will look like – let alone what its position on Libya might be and whether it would still retain a leading role in Libya. It is not clear, either, whether Paris – which has been vying to take Italy’s spot in Libya for some time now – would place fuel smuggling on its agenda.
It is clear, however, that the EU as a bloc has not yet responded to the threats stemming from
Sanalla’s point about fuel smuggling can be made about most other smuggling markets. They all serve to undermine the Libyan state
Mark Micallef, Senior Fellow, Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime