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.


Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

Alister Shepherd, the director of a subsidiary of FireEye, during a presentation about the APT33 in Dubai Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 9 min 10 sec ago
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Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

  • The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.
  • Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

DUBAI: An Iranian government-aligned group of hackers launched a major campaign targeting Mideast energy firms and others ahead of US sanctions on Iran, a cybersecurity firm said Tuesday, warning further attacks remain possible as America reimposes others on Tehran.

While the firm FireEye says the so-called “spear-phishing” email campaign only involves hackers stealing information from infected computers, it involves a similar type of malware previously used to inject a program that destroyed tens of thousands of terminals in Saudi Arabia.

The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.

“Whenever we see Iranian threat groups active in this region, particularly in line with geopolitical events, we have to be concerned they might either be engaged in or pre-positioning for a disruptive attack,” Alister Shepherd, a director for a FireEye subsidiary, told The Associated Press.

Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

“Iran’s cyber capabilities are purely defensive, and these claims made by private firms are a form of false advertising designed to attract clients,” the mission said in a statement. “They should not be taken at face value.”

FireEye, which often works with governments and large corporations, refers to the group of Iranian hackers as APT33, an acronym for “advanced persistent threat.” APT33 used phishing email attacks with fake job opportunities to gain access to the companies affected, faking domain names to make the messages look legitimate. Analysts described the emails as “spear-phishing” as they appear targeted in nature.

FireEye first discussed the group last year around the same time. This year, the company briefed journalists after offering presentations to potential government clients in Dubai at a luxury hotel and yacht club on the man-made, sea-horse-shaped Daria Island.

While acknowledging their sales pitch, FireEye warned of the danger such Iranian government-aligned hacking groups pose. Iran is believed to be behind the spread of Shamoon in 2012, which hit Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas. The virus deleted hard drives and then displayed a picture of a burning American flag on computer screens. Saudi Aramco ultimately shut down its network and destroyed over 30,000 computers.

A second version of Shamoon raced through Saudi government computers in late 2016, this time making the destroyed computers display a photograph of the body of 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned fleeing his country’s civil war.

But Iran first found itself as a victim of a cyberattack. Iran developed its cyber capabilities in 2011 after the Stuxnet computer virus destroyed thousands of centrifuges involved in Iran’s contested nuclear program. Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation.

APT33’s emails haven’t been destructive. However, from July 2 through July 29, FireEye saw “a by-factors-of-10 increase” in the number of emails the group sent targeting their clients, Shepherd said.