Smugglers making €3,000 a day in illegal fuel trade to Malta

Libyan MP says smuggling out of Libya costing country €4 billion annually

Police searching a vessel for contraband fuel.
Police searching a vessel for contraband fuel.

Libyan militia groups are earning huge amounts by smuggling cheap fuel on trawlers to Malta, a Libyan MP and academic has told The Times of London.

The smuggling is said to be causing desperate shortages that have brought Tripoli to a standstill.

According to the report, the shortages are forcing the Libyan authorities to import oil from Europe – €8.3 billion-worth in 2013 according to government figure – but  almost half was being stolen by militias and shipped abroad.

“The smuggling has massively increased in the last two years in the security breakdown,” Dr Abdel-Salem Abdullah Nassia, economics professor at the University of Tripoli and a member of parliament, said. “There are no land or sea borders in Libya now. It’s completely out of control.”

The trade was costing the country nearly €4 billion annually, he said, as the government subsidises its imports for sale to the public.

“The smuggling of subsided fuel is the reason for the economic collapse here,” Dr Nassia added.

The illegal trade flourished in the chaotic aftermath of the 2011 revolution that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Coastal militiamen who control access to routes across the Mediterranean are making up to €3,000 a day selling Libyan petrol to Maltese smugglers, the newspaper claims, saying that the increasing number of poor and unemployed youths living in Libya’s port cities were joining in because “it’s easy, quick cash”.

Heavily-armed groups of ex-rebels, who fought against Gaddafi and are now on the government payroll, control the smuggling, with the deals made and the fuel exchanged at sea, outside the surveillance of Libyan and Maltese coastguards.

Omar al-Shakmak, the Libyan oil minister, sadi that since the revolution there has been a 20% jump in fuel usage. “There is no increase in population, no new projects. The only explanation is increased smuggling.”

Fuel smuggling from Libya was on the agenda during a meeting held earlier in July between the Libyan interior minister Saaleh Abdurraheem Maaziq and home affairs minister Manuel Mallia.

In June, the Libyan government said the smuggling to Malta was increasing, adding that it was a “threat” to Libya’s national security.