The North Atlantic Organisation, NATO, Thursday detained a tanker in Malta that was due to ship fuel from Italy to a port in western Libya, a senior Libyan source was reported telling the authoritative publication, Petroleum Economist.
The tanker, The Jupiter, that was carrying 12,750 tonnes of gasoline was destined for a port within the Al Qathafi-held east for use by the regime's military forces, the publication reported.
NATO sources have said that the ship was ‘boarded’ by a rapid response team and its cargo inspected. “The captain was ordered to stop all engines and to veer back out of Libyan waters and to anchor off Malta,” the source said. The ship’s captain was told it could not deliver its gasoline because fuel is being diverted to regime forces.
However, Petroleum Economist quoting a NATO official who would not be named, the ship was now at anchor off Tripoli awaiting instruction from its owner.
The publication goes on to quote NATO saying: "It is the Al Qathafi regime that is depriving its own citizens of vehicle fuel by diverting reserves for military use. Nato naval forces can deny access to vessels entering or leaving Libyan ports if there is reliable intelligence to suggest that the vessel or its cargo will be used to support attacks or threats on civilians, either directly or indirectly."
NATO adds that for the first time, UN Resolution 1973, which authorises military action to protect civilians from harm, could now cover the supply of fuel to the regime.
"UNSCR 1973 authorises all necessary measures to protect civilians and preventing the use of fuel for vehicles attacking civilians is within the mandate," NATOsaid.
A second vessel, the Cartagena, is still thought to be heading from Turkey to Zawiyah, in western Libya, carrying 42,000 tonnes of fuel for the regime.
The source said it had been told to sail well south of Malta, amid fears that its cargo may also be interdicted. Although the tanker's bill of lading states Tripoli, Lebanon, as its destination, the cargo is heading for Libya.
Petrolium Economist says that the move indicates a tightening of NATO’s efforts to prevent Muammar Al Qathafi’s regime from importing fuel. It comes after the publication, using intelligence from within Libya, revealed efforts by European and Middle Eastern traders to supply the regime.
But Petroleum Economist has also learned that another vessel, the 248-metre Samraa Al-Khaleej, had been instructed to sail to Ras Lanuf to lift 600,000 barrels of Amna crude.
Importing fuel, which is growing increasingly scarce in western Libya, and selling crude has grown critical for the Al Qathafi regime, it said.
At the same time, Switzerland-based trader, Vitol has, since April 6, reportedly shipped at least 11 cargoes to the rebel-held east, while the west has relied on supplies through the Tunisian border.
Under pressure from NATO governments and with help from civilians sympathetic to the rebellion in Libya, Tunisia has now clamped down on that trade.
Residents in parts of Tripoli have reported that prices for fuel in the Libyan capital are now almost 50 times the price in Benghazi.
Although oil production in Libya is thought to have entirely ceased, Petrolium Economist said that according to sources in Libya and within one of the Western governments involved in the NATO campaign, Al Qathafi’s regime has between 3.6 million and 4 million barrels of crude in storage in tanks in Ras Lanuf, Sidra and Mellitah, close to the 120,000 barrels a day Zawiyah refinery.
The AL Qathafi regime has reportedly spent recent days seeking traders willing to lift some of this crude, although it is unclear how payment for the oil can be made in light of US sanctions against Libya. The dinar is non-convertible, making transactions in dollars difficult without recourse to an international bank that may be exposed to US jurisdiction.
Under the existing UN Resolution 1973, stopping fuel from reaching western Libya would require proof that it was being used to endanger civilians.
Martijn Feldbrugge, a sanctions expert at Business Sanctions and Consulting Nieuwediep, has been quoted by the publication as saying that stopping a ship in international waters or within Libyan maritime territory “could be considered an act of war”.
While NATO's arraignment of the Jupiter in Malta suggests a more aggressive strategy by the coalition, the EU is also considering a tightening of its own sanctions against fuel supplies, although some countries with business interests connected to the GNMTC are reluctant, according to a senior source with knowledge of the process. One solution may be to ban from EU ports any tanker that loaded at a port under Al Qathafi control.
Preventing fuel supplies to the regime rests on assumptions that gasoline shortages could hamper Al Qathafi’s military, or trigger an uprising in Tripoli by locals.
The Transitional National Council (TNC), the rebel government based in Benghazi, has been lobbying NATO and western governments with its argument that fuel supplies are lengthening the war and enhancing the Al Qathafi military’s capabilities.
Meanwhile, Libyan nationals living on the Mediterranean island of Malta have reportedly protested against the island authorities’ failure to make efficient surveillance of ships using Malta to deliver goods and provisions that could be used by the Libyan regime against civilians. The Libyans in Malta called on the Maltese government to be more careful of future shipments to Libya going through the island.
Petrolium Economist in the meantime also reported three different sources confirming that Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libyan National Oil Company, NOC, is now in Vienna, although no-one has confirmed that his exit from the country is a defection.
Ghanem is said to own a house in the Austrian capital, where he has repeatedly represented Libya at OPEC meetings, and is thought to hold citizenship in the country. A TNC source also claimed that Ghanem holds Italian citizenship.
If Shokri Ghanem’s defection is not confirmed he would still be expected to represent Libya at an OPEC meeting in Vienna next month. It is only then that one would be in a position to confirm the latest news about him.