BEIRUT: A ship’s captain and a shipping agent were arrested in Lebanon on Tuesday on charges of trying to smuggle 4 million liters of petrol into Syria.
The arrests have shone a light on flagrant violations in Lebanon of the US Caesar Act, which targets trade with the Assad regime and imposes sanctions for noncompliance.
Bashir Matar, head of Al-Qaa border municipality, told Arab News that smuggling was rife on Lebanon’s border with Syria, with illegal transport of fuel as well as people trafficking, and that rival gangs fought over lucrative routes.
“On the outskirts of the Al-Qaa plain on the border, battles broke out … between Syrian and Lebanese families and clans over a plot of land used as a crossing for smuggling,” he said.
“We are witnessing attempts by several groups to seize land close to the borders to be used for smuggling.”
Security sources told Arab News the Panamanian-registered Jaguar S was intercepted off the Lebanese coast at Zahrani, a notorious stronghold for the Iran-backed Hezbollah group and the Amal Movement.
Investigators believe the ship’s crew intended to circumvent the Caesar Act, and Lebanese military intelligence and police suggested the two detainees had confessed to planning to unload the fuel in Lebanon before smuggling it into Syria.
The vessel’s journey began in Istanbul, and it sailed to the Greek island of Crete before arriving off Lebanon at the end of September.
“The ship switched off its GPS device before entering Lebanese waters so that its movement could not be monitored via satellites,” a security source told Arab News.
“Upon docking, its cargo was supposed to be unloaded in cooperation with complicit parties and transported in installments by land to Syria, protected by forces that benefit from this operation and control the illegal crossings between Lebanon and Syria.
“An inspection of the manifest by Lebanese customs showed that the ship, which is flying the flag of Panama, had changed its name more than once in the past years.
“The Syrian Al-Naem Co., based in Harasta, Damascus, is communicating with influential people in Lebanon to get the shipment of petrol through Lebanese territory in order to be smuggled into Syria by land to bypass the Caesar Act.”