The Philippine government has instructed its embassy in Libya to “exert all efforts” to secure the immediate release of the 20 Filipino seafarers who are presently detained on the suspicion that they were trying to smuggle six million liters (1.6 million gallons) of fuel to Tunisia.
The 20 Filipino seafarers were detained on Sunday when Libyan authorities intercepted the Liberian-flagged tanker Levant sailing 110 miles from Tripoli. The Libyan Coast Guard then took the vessel, operated by Evalend Shipping Tankers in Athens, under tow, and the seafarers were taken to Libya’s prosecutor general.
In response to Philippines Foreign Affairs Minister Allan Peter Cayetano's request, the Libyan government assured Philippine embassy officials in Tripoli that the detainees are being treated well and are in good condition.
Since the 2011 revolution that ended Gaddafi's leadership of Libya, oil smuggling has become rampant in the region. In July, the U.N. Security Council extended sanctions on illegal oil exports from Libya in a bid to stop rampant smuggling of subsidized fuel by sea. Imported fuel that is priced lower for the domestic market is commonly smuggled by ship from western Libya to Malta, Italy and Turkey, and by land to Tunisia, according to U.N. investigators.
Last week, Libya's Rada Special Deterrence Force claimed to have arrested one of the nation's biggest Libyan fuel smugglers and illegal migration traffickers. The accused, Fahmi Salim Musa Bin Khalifa, from Zuwara is labeled by Rada as the ‘‘king of smuggling’’ in Libya.
Libya is a major oil producer and exporter, but it has limited refining capacity. Imported refined products are heavily subsidized, so smugglers can make money by re-exporting.