The Malta Independent 1 December 2022, Thursday
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New details emerge of fuel smuggling off Maltese shores

Jeremy Micallef Monday, 17 September 2018, 12:00 Last update: about 5 years ago

A Panel of Experts on Libya presented both a letter and a report addressed to the President of the United Nations Security Council, through which illegal activities happening a mere 12 nautical miles off the coast of Malta, outside our territorial waters, are broken down and explained in detail.

The Panel documented six attempts by the eastern National Oil Corporation in Benghazi to illicitly export crude oil. These exports, by both land and sea, 'continue to be a prosperous activity', they say. The Panel identified networks involved in such activities operating in various regions and their modi operandi.

The report explains how vessels involved in fuel smuggling sail south from Malta to the Gulf of Gabes, off the shores of Tunisia. The vessels then go off radar approximately 40 to 60 nautical miles off the Tunisian coast by, usually, turning off the Automatic Identification System (AIS), and proceed to sail east to Zuwarah.

"After loading, they usually return to Malta," whilst some of the vessels remain adrift at least 12 nautical miles off the coast, outside Maltese territorial waters. There they discharge the fuel onto other vessels that carry it to its final destination.

The Noor is one of the tankers used as an example of the ongoing activities just outside Maltese territorial waters, they said. It is said to have allegedly conducted fuel smuggling in the area, setting sail off Malta in October 2017, then returning to a point off Malta just a month later in November - disconnecting its AIS in the process, 3 days before it arrived at the same location outside Malta's territorial waters.

In spite of this, the report goes on to explain that 'a number of factors brought fuel smuggling by sea to a temporary halt'. One of these factors being 'the arrests in Italy in October 2017 of Darren Debono and other individuals who were part of the same criminal network as Fahmi Salim'.

'Smuggling by sea resumed in the first quarter of 2018, but there were significant changes in the smuggling networks, the modi operandi and the routes employed.'

Recommendations brought forward include authorizing Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations, "to inspect, on the high seas off the coast of Libya, vessels bound to or from Libya which they have reasonable grounds to believe are illicitly exporting crude oil or refined petroleum products".

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