Libya seizes oil tankers and crew after shootout at sea

The Ruta oil tanker flying the Ukranian flag, is seen at the Tripoli seaport on April 29, 2017, after it was seized by the Libyan Navy off the coastal city of Zuwara, about 160 km west of Tripoli, along with another tanker flying the Congolese flag, for smuggling fuel. (AFP)
Updated 30 April 2017
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Libya seizes oil tankers and crew after shootout at sea

LIBYA: Libya has seized two foreign-flagged oil tankers and detained their crews for allegedly smuggling fuel after an hours-long gunbattle off the west coast, authorities said.
Oil is Libya’s main natural resource, with reserves estimated at 48 billion barrels, the largest in Africa.
Libya had an output capacity of about 1.6 million barrels per day before the 2011 armed uprising, but production has since slumped as rival forces battle for control of its oil facilities.
The coast guard spotted the vessels on Thursday night two kilometers (1.2 miles) off Sidi Said near Zuwara, a town on the central coast, the authorities said.
“The Libyan coast guard boarded the two tankers, one flying the Ukrainian flag, the Ruta, and the other, the Stark, flying the Congolese flag,” said General Ayoub Qassem.
“The coast guards had monitored them from afar and waited until Friday morning to act,” he told AFP.
Qassem said the oil traffickers were heavily armed and were supported by small boats.
They had put up fierce resistance, but the tankers were eventually seized by the Libyan authorities, “after more than three hours of exchange of fire.”
On several occasions, “boats with armed men were returned... and opened fire on the coast guards” using Kalashnikovs and heavy machine guns, he said.
After they were overpowered, the two tankers and their crews were taken back to the capital Tripoli.
Among them were 14 Ukrainians from the Ruta and four Turks and two Georgians who were on the Stark, said Qassem.
Another three crew members from the Stark were in Zuwara, he said, without giving their nationality.
At the time of the seizure, the Ruta had around 3,330 tons of oil in its tanks, while the Stark, which can carry 1,236 tons, was about to be loaded with fuel when the coast guard arrived.
The crews of the two vessels were taken to Tripoli where they are to face prosecution.
Libya has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, with dozens of armed factions battling for control of the oil-rich country.


Putin and Erdogan to hold Syria talks

Updated 25 sec ago
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Putin and Erdogan to hold Syria talks

  • Erdogan said he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria
  • Moscow plans to organize a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran at the beginning of this year as part of the Astana peace process

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan will hold Syria talks in Moscow on Wednesday, with Turkey saying they will focus on Ankara’s so-called “security zone” in northern Syria.
The two leaders are on opposite sides of the conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict. Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement on pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria last month.
In a speech on Monday, Erdogan said he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.
The US-allied Kurds, who control much of northern Syria, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.
Moscow, a long time supporter of Assad, is likely to oppose the plan, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week saying Damascus must take control of the country’s north.
Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control over the country.
Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw US troops have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.
The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.
Moscow plans to organize a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran at the beginning of this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.
“So far, no date has been set but after negotiations with Erdogan, we will begin preparations for the trilateral summit,” Putin’s foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters last week.
The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of the rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.
Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.
But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered with remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defense systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.