Libya at the crossroads as Western powers intensify campaign
Stifling Qadhafi’s fuel supplies might end the war. But, with the country’s political structures and its economy virtually destroyed, what comes after?
NATO and the Western powers have intensified their campaign to end Muammar Qadhafi’s regime, stepping up the aerial bombing of Tripoli, and seeking to staunch the flow of fuel to the parts of Libya still under his control.
As dozens of missiles landed on vehicle depots in the Bab Al Aziziyah compound in Tripoli on 23 and 24 May, the UK and France said they would send ground-attack aircraft to the front. The heavily armed UK and French helicopters are equipped with night vision.
Their deployment is an admission that although air strikes continue to destroy stationary infrastructure critical to Qadhafi’s war effort, the jets have been unable to stop the fighting on the ground.
Loyalist troops continue to shell rebel-controlled towns in Libya’s western mountains, where a battle over roads along the border with Tunisia grows bloodier by the day. And Qadhafi troops still hold Brega, in the centre of the country, and are again fighting for control of Misrata, which rebel forces liberated last month.
But a new tactic to stop the flow of seaborne fuel to western Libya may be just as decisive. Despite UN, US and EU sanctions against Qadhafi, fuel supplies have continued to reach his troops – and, according to well-placed sources within the country’s oil industry, the regime has been scouring the planet for traders willing to lift cargoes of crude held in storage, possibly in exchange for supplies of gasoline.
The fog of war
War’s fog has made intelligence about oil production and fuel supplies confusing, but sources within the regime and the Transitional National Council (TNC), as well as information from Western diplomatic and intelligence sources, have given Petroleum Economist some understanding of the state of play.
Oil production in the rebel east has been shut in since attacks in April on the Misla oilfield’s surface facilities, which knocked out production from the larger Sarir field, too; and also on a booster station roughly halfway up the pipeline linking those fields to the Marsa el-Hariga port, next to Tobruk (see Map). Damage to the Misla facilities is easier to fix, and Arabian Gulf Oil (Agoco), a unit of National Oil Company (NOC) now in rebel hands, can do this in weeks.
But replacing the booster station will need foreign parts and a foreign firm to install them. A private security firm would be the likeliest way to protect contractors, but that is some way off. One rebel source said Agoco may have found another solution, allowing for up to 200,000 barrels a day (b/d) of exports once Misla is fixed. But he spoke of the plans on condition that Petroleum Economist not reveal them.
With no crude output, the TNC’s stored oil has depleted, leaving the east dependent on supplies from Qatar Petroleum (QP), whose Tasweeq unit has been working with Switzerland-registered trader Vitol. At least 11 cargoes have arrived at Tobruk since the beginning of April, keeping the rebel areas well supplied with fuel. But friction between Vitol, which a source said “had to be begged” to ship fuel into the east, and QP is rising. Vitol has been supplying the fuel “on a promise”, said a source – but is growing restless for payment. Vitol would not comment when contacted by Petroleum Economist.
The Qadhafi west is still pumping small volumes of oil. A source said supplies from fields close to, but not including, the Al Hamra field (under Agoco’s control) are being piped to the 120,000 barrels a day (b/d) Zawiyah refinery, west of Tripoli, yielding 6,000 tonnes of fuel every 10 days, equivalent to 4,500 b/d.
Zawiyah is a basic refinery with no conversion units, so the regime’s options for maximising gasoline production are limited. Running on good quality crude, Zawiya’s output would be roughly 25% fuel oil, 40% middle distillates and 35% light distillates, probably gasoline.
Although Western aerial surveillance has confirmed that Zawiyah is operating, the best guess puts throughput at about 40-50% of capacity. So feedstock is probably also coming from the Mellitah storage tank, west of Tripoli. It is unknown how much crude remains in Mellitah, but the regime’s total stored oil amounts to between 3.6 million and 4 million barrels, according to sources from within Libya and a Western government official. This is also being held in tanks in Ras Lanuf and Sidra, which cannot pipe their crude to Zawiyah.
Crude for sale
That leaves some crude available for sale on the international market. The regime has spent recent weeks scouring the world for traders willing to lift a 600,000 barrel cargo. Senior sources with close knowledge of Libya’s oil-trading business said BB Energy, a small trading house with offices in London and elsewhere, had agreed to do this. But BB Energy denied any involvement in trading with the Qadhafi regime when contacted by Petroleum Economist.
Oil demand in the west is thought to be at least 36,000 b/d, about double the needs of the east. So, as the west’s crude feedstock dwindles, fuel imports are growing critical to the regime. Without additional crude, Zawiyah’s throughput will soon fall still further. Rebels also believe they have found the means to cut the pipeline to the refinery from the southern fields.
But preventing refined products from reaching western Libya has been hard. Trucks laden with gasoline imported into Tunis have crossed the border into Libya – although a combination of Western diplomatic pressure and, say unverifiable reports, Tunisians sympathetic to the rebels have now slowed the flow of this traffic.
Now Nato is tightening this fuel noose still further. On 19 May, Petroleum Economist revealed details of the regime’s efforts to import fuel from Italy and Turkey using Lebanese middlemen.
Two days later, in Malta, Nato arrested the Jupiter, one of the tankers carrying fuel to western Libya. The vessel later put down its anchor off Tripoli, its cargo left floating tantalisingly close to its destination, but without permission to be discharged.
Carrying just 12,750 tonnes of gasoline, the 148 metre long Jupiter wasn’t about to relieve the shortages that have sent fuel prices soaring beyond $5 a litre in Tripoli. But the seizure signalled a change in Nato’s tactics. On 20 May, it was said to have intercepted another tanker, the Cartagena, which sources said was carrying 37,500 tonnes (about 300,000 barrels) of gasoline from Turkey to western Libya. Nato denied reports that it had boarded the vessel, but an official indicated that the alliance was keeping a close eye on its whereabouts, telling Petroleum Economist on 23 May that the Cartagena was loitering off Malta.
Nato’s willingness to interdict these vessels hasn’t ended the hopes of some wily traders to deal with the regime, but it has made doing business with Libya’s state-controlled General National Maritime Transport (GNMTC) – representatives of which continue to travel Europe in search of deals – much riskier.
Tankers chartered to serve the regime are heading towards Libya from as far away as Antwerp and New York City. Others are waiting for cargoes in the Mideast Gulf, according to one well-placed source with close knowledge of the firms. But these vessels and their captains have much to worry about now. “GNMTC is panicking,” the source said.
In tandem with its campaign to stop seaborne fuel reaching western Libya, Nato’s jets have been targeting ports in Tripoli and Al Khums. All the maritime targets hit in sorties that began on 20 May were military, said Nato. But the regime disagreed. And it won’t be comforted by calls from senior Western military figures that Libya’s fuel-import terminals and the Zawiyah refinery should also be within Nato’s sights.
That’s unlikely, even if a classic military strategy would justify dismantling the regime’s fuel supplies to deny its army mobility. Legal experts already question the legal basis of Nato’s interdiction of fuel supplies into western Libya. Hitting oil infrastructure, says Elizabeth Wilmehurst, an international law expert, would “need a very wide” interpretation of UN Security Resolution 1973, which mandates Nato to protect civilians. Western diplomatic sources said targeting dual-use (meaning civilian and military) infrastructure has categorically been ruled out.
And even some Nato members have needed persuading to back a fuel embargo. Since the start of the conflict, trading fuel with GNMTC, controlled by Qadhafi’s son Hannibal, or buying oil from state-owned NOC has not been illegal for EU companies.
In Malta, Nato arrested the Jupiter, one of the tankers carrying fuel to western Libya. The vessel later put down its anchor off Tripoli, its cargo left floating tantalisingly close to its destination
But the lack of sanctions targeting fuel buyers or GNMTC doesn’t mean such trading has been easy. The combination of EU, US and UN sanctions has sufficiently confused lawyers and worried traders that they have deterred all but the most intrepid of businessmen – who, according to a source, can command a 50% premium on the fuel they manage to sell to the regime.
While EU sanctions name specific companies and individuals that must be avoided, US sanctions make any transactions involving Libya illegal. Exceptions ruled into the US sanctions regime, overseen by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, a division of the Treasury, allow for dealing with QP, Vitol and Agoco. Without political cover, Vitol’s peers have steered well clear.
The diplomacy needed to expand the EU sanctions to include GNMTC hasn’t been easy either, although the UK, which is pressing the case, is “making progress”, according to a senior diplomatic source. Despite the escalation of France’s war effort, that country and Italy have been particularly reluctant to target GNMTC.
Last year, France signed a contract to build a ship for the Libyan firm in Saint-Nazaire. Saras, an Italian refiner, sold the cargo of fuel that was loaded onto the Jupiter from its Sarrouch plant in Sardinia last month and, sources claimed, remains willing to sell gasoline to the regime. (Saras has not answered repeated requests from Petroleum Economist for comment on these allegations.)
Tighter EU sanctions could hit hard. Sources said GNMTC, using Maltese middlemen, had been bribing some maritime authorities to help ships avoid detection. But more-stringent EU sanctions would involve banning tankers that dock in regime ports from entering EU ports, according to a person familiar with the bloc’s negotiations. Ports under rebel control would not be included. Martijn Feldbrugge, of Business & Sanctions Consulting Nieuwediep, a sanctions consultancy, said similar measures used against Iran had prompted state-owned Iran Shipping Lines to change the names of its ships to avoid future detection – although the law eventually caught up with them, too.
Meanwhile, small Libyan firms willing to buy fuel on behalf of the regime have stepped in, hoping to sail beneath Nato’s radar. El Sharara, a local distribution firm not previously known to have been a large buyer of seaborne fuel, is one of them. The name of another alleged to be involved in the murky business – International Business Group – seems designed for obscurity. Neither could be reached for comment.
Nato says enforcing a fuel embargo – even without the legal cover that tighter EU sanctions would give – is in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 1973. After it boarded the Jupiter, an official said: “It is the Qadhafi regime [that] is depriving its own citizens of vehicle fuel by diverting reserves for military use. Nato naval forces can deny access to vessels entering or leaving Libyan ports if there is reliable intelligence to suggest that the vessel or its cargo will be used to support attacks, or threats on civilians, either directly or indirectly.”
The UN resolution, the official added, “authorises all necessary measures to protect civilians and preventing the use of fuel for vehicles attacking civilians is within the mandate”.
"This is not a 1940s-style military campaign. In the east, it is a stagnant war. The numbers are small and the amount of oil needed is not substantial”
But establishing whether the fuel would go to regime forces or to civilians is difficult. The Jupiter was carrying 95 octane gasoline, the same fuel used in cars across Europe and in North Africa, suggesting its primary use was for Tripoli’s fuel-starved residents. But, as Nato’s air strikes continue to destroy Qadhafi’s tanks, the line between civilian and military vehicles has blurred. As one Nato official argued, mount an anti-aircraft gun in the rear bed of a gasoline-fuelled pick-up truck and it becomes a deadly technical.
That ignores what one Western diplomat said was the “implicit” objective of Nato’s fuel embargo: to incite an uprising against Qadhafi in Tripoli. Indeed, argued Shashank Joshi, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a UK defence think tank, denying fuel to the regime’s military is hardly going to speed the war to its end anyway.
“This is not a 1940s-style military campaign,” Joshi said. “In the east, it is a stagnant war. The numbers are small and the amount of oil needed is not substantial.” In Misrata, for example, urban warfare involved snipers and stationary artillery, he said. Notions of Qadhafi’s tanks grinding to a halt in the desert for lack of fuel, as Rommel’s Panzer division did during the Second World War, are not relevant now.
Yet squeezing the civilian population of fuel could easily backfire on Nato, said Joshi, as people blame Western sanctions – and not Qadhafi – for their misery. Some evidence of that is already surfacing. A group of Western journalists in Zawiyah reported coming under attack on 21 May as locals, angered by fuel shortages and rising food prices, set upon their minibus. If such incidents grow more frequent, diplomatic support for the embargo, even within Nato, may grow weaker.
All of this was all supposed to be over by now. Qatar, which has led a small group of Arab nations backing the campaign, believed Qadhafi would be gone in March, said one analyst. Now it is desperately hoping he is gone before Opec meets in Vienna on 8 June.
Qatar’s recognition of the TNC in Benghazi, Kuwait’s pledge of money to the rebels (the cash hasn’t yet arrived) and TNC plans to attend the Opec meeting have made things awkward for the cartel. Officially, it has not commented on the matter, but it is understood that the group will not recognise the TNC until Austria, Opec’s host nation, or the UN does – and there is little sign of that happening.
Each week, new signs of the regime’s disintegration appear. Yet still Qadhafi battles on. The supposed defection last month of NOC’s chairman, Shokri Ghanem, was a blow that Western government officials believed would undermine Qadhafi.
But as Petroleum Economist went to press, none of them could say convincingly where he was – whether in Vienna, as a source told us, or in Tunisia, as that country’s foreign minister claimed. Nor could anyone say why he’d left Libya. A report on 25 May even claimed Ghanem was still representing NOC in discussions with foreign investors.
Qadhafi’s own whereabouts are also a mystery. A Nato strike on his compound in mid-May injured him, some reports claimed. And he may have fled for the desert south of the capital. Or he’s well enough to glide into the basement of Tripoli’s up-market Rixos Hotel to film a state TV appearance – and leave again before the Western journalists staying in the rooms above lay eyes on him.
Negotiated settlement unlikely
None of this means the regime will not implode, but Western diplomats are no longer expecting such an outcome – and now talk pragmatically about partition of the country between the divided sides and the deployment of international peace keepers. But a negotiated settlement is unlikely, although some diplomats still say the involvement of the African Union, which has already tried and failed to broach a ceasefire, could still be crucial.
Qadhafi’s own whereabouts are also a mystery. A Nato strike on his compound in mid-May injured him, some reports claimed. And he may have fled for the desert south of the capital
The TNC will not negotiate with Qadhafi or his inner circle, an envoy told an off-the-record gathering of senior Western officials in London last month – but it may talk with other members of the regime. Yet, thanks in part to the International Criminal Court, which on 16 May issued arrest warrants for Qadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam and Abdullah Al Sanousi, head of the country’s intelligence network, Qadhafi now sees the conflict as his Götterdämmerung, said one diplomat.
The likeliest course for the conflict, argued officials at the London briefing, is the gradual weakening of the regime and gradual strengthening of the rebels. But this, too, has become more difficult.
Fuel supplies to the east don’t face any significant obstacles, but the shuttering of its oil exports has made the TNC desperate for foreign cash. Its envoys have spent recent weeks touring Western capitals pleading their case. The diplomatic response has been strong – EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton travelled to Benghazi on 21 May, followed a day later by Jeffrey Feltman, the US’ assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs – but the money hasn’t materialised.
Ali Tarhouni, the TNC’s finance minister, has set a budget for the next six months of just $3 billion. Yet the countries backing the rebels, who said last month that frozen Qadhafi money could be released to the TNC, have yet to find a legal mechanism to enable this, or finance Tarhouni’s spending. His plea is urgent. As Tarhouni told Petroleum Economist in April, he is “running a war economy” and cash is a life-and-death matter.
And in the field, the rebels remain disorganised – and the TNC’s control of the army uncertain. Soldiers on the frontline close to Brega, still under Qadhafi control, say there is little evidence that the new weaponry discreetly promised by foreign governments has reached the insurgents. The longer their frustrations endure, the more foment grows on the streets of Benghazi. Reports of death squads targeting suspected regime loyalists are growing more common. Even the Salloum border crossing between Egypt and Libya – open and free when Petroleum Economist passed into the rebel east last month – has been periodically closed, amid reports of Qadhafi loyalists in the area.
Losing the peace?
All of this undermines the theory, widely accepted in the West at the start of the rebellion, that a popular uprising would topple a hated dictator. But it will also worry anyone who assumed post-Qadhafi Libya would quickly resume oil production.
This is a problem for the world’s economy, because Libya’s spectre continues to hang over oil markets. The volume of Libya’s 1.6 million b/d of oil output – less than 1.5% of the world’s total – has not been decisive for the market, but the quality of the lost crude is distorting it.
Saudi Arabia has tried to replace the shut-in oil, selling a new blend designed to meet the needs of European refiners that relied on Libya’s high-quality crude. But only two or three cargoes have been sold, said David Kirsch, an analyst at PFC Energy. Tightness in the market for crudes equivalent in quality to Libya’s – from Algeria or Nigeria, for example – has supported Brent oil prices, which has in turn held up the rest of the crude complex. Even after a rout in commodity markets in early May, Brent remains well above the range both Opec and the International Energy Agency believe is healthy.
The problem isn’t going away any time soon. Even if the fighting ended quickly, Libya’s oil output would remain shut in or beneath its pre-war capacity for months, or years, predict analysts.
Even if the fighting ended quickly, Libya’s oil output would remain shut in or beneath its pre-war capacity for months, or years, predict analysts
There is growing unease in Western diplomatic circles about what comes after Qadhafi. So quickly did Nato join the conflict that little was done to plan for how to deal with the country once he is gone. “We always had the question of ‘what happens when the proverbial helicopter crashes’,” said one former ambassador to Libya, “but we didn’t think [a war] would happen.” Saif al-Islam, seen by the West as the inevitable successor to his father, is no longer acceptable.
“There has been absolutely no phase-four planning for post-Qadhafi,” said an official from the UK’s Ministry of Defence, using diplomatic jargon to describe Western preparedness for the aftermath of regime change. The mistakes that followed the US’ conquest of Iraq are in danger of being repeated, he said. Even a basic strategy to ensure the army immediately backs a new regime, or foreign mercenaries return home, is still hazy.
That leaves potential for political chaos, but also for financial ruin. The Economist Intelligence Unit reckons Libya’s GDP has already crashed by 25% – a figure others believe scarcely accounts for the wider collapse of the country’s economy. The return of investors to Libya’s upstream energy sector will be critical – especially if the damage to energy infrastructure is severe.
Italy’s Eni, one of Libya’s largest foreign investors, said last month that it was still pumping about 300 million cubic feet a day of natural gas, all for domestic consumption. But other information is obscure. Henry Smith, an analyst at Control Risks, a consultancy, says the east has probably suffered more than the west. But little is really known of the state of key energy hubs such as Ras Lanuf or Brega.
Foreign firms aren’t going to rush back to the country, said Ben Cahill, a North Africa analyst at PFC Energy. And, according to Agoco, firms from countries that haven’t backed the rebels or Nato’s campaign will not be welcome. Contractual risk will be paramount for foreign investors, Cahill said. But the absence of any native civil society in Qadhafi’s Libya may also undermine the peace, when it comes, he added.
The TNC told Petroleum Economist in April that it hoped to lift oil output to 3 million b/d once Qadhafi was gone. But few believe that is likely – and no-one expects it to happen as swiftly as the rebels hope.
Institutional problems will also hurt these efforts. NOC will be vital in bringing production back on stream, but Ghanem and the old guard won’t be accepted by the TNC. Even if Ghanem announced his defection, said one senior rebel source, the TNC would not welcome him.
Cahill said a common complaint of foreign operators in Libya in the past was that, beyond the inner circle, finding decision makers was tough. Until a new cadre of officials claims the top tier of NOC, that problem will be even more severe after the war.
Such a worrying outlook won’t reassure anyone. But, for now, the bigger concern is that no-one can safely predict when the conflict will end. An escalation of Nato’s air strikes might do the job, but the best hope may be just as brutal: starving the west of fuel and basic civilian needs. That won’t be pretty. “You can’t even buy a bicycle in Tripoli anymore,” says a member of the TNC, with glee.
Libya time-line: how events have unfolded
15/16 February 2011 – Police break up a protest in the eastern city of Benghazi after the arrest of a human-rights activist. Protesters also take to the streets in Al Bayda and Zintan.
17 February – Activists call for a “day of revolt” to mark the anniversary of 2006 clashes in Benghazi. Al Jazeera estimates 14 are killed in clashes in Benghazi; 13 in Al Bayda, while 10 die in Ajdabiya and six in Darnah. Protests are also held in Tripoli and Zintan.
18-19 February – further violent clashes between protesters and Qadhafi troops in Benghazi. Reports emerge that Qadhafi has hired mercenaries from Chad to help quell the uprising. Protests spread to Misrata, Al Bayda, Derna and Tobruk. AFP estimates at least 41 people killed since uprising started.
20 February – Qadhafi’s son Saif al-Islam appears on state television, blaming the unrest on foreign agents: “We will fight to the last man and woman and bullet. We will not lose Libya. We will not let Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and the BBC trick us.” Clashes in Tripoli intensify; the eastern province of Cyrenaica is effectively under rebel control.
21 February – Diplomats at Libya’s mission to the UN call on the Libyan army to help overthrow Qadhafi. Justice minister Abudul Jelil resigns over the use of violence against protesters.
22 February – Qadhafi vows to die “a martyr” and pledges to crush the revolt. Former UK foreign secretary David Owen calls for a no-fly zone over Libya. Army chief Abdul Fatah Younis, believed to be the second-most powerful man in the country, resigns and calls on the army and police to fight Qadhafi. Human Rights Watch puts the death toll at 233. The Arab League suspends Libya from meetings.
23 February – Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini confirms that Cyrenaica is in rebel hands, as is the city of Misrata.
24 February – Rebels take control of Tobruk. Heavy fighting with Qadhafi loyalists breaks out in Misrata and Zawiyah. Qadhafi’s cousin and close aide Ahmed Qhadaf al-Dam defects. EU calls for Libya to be suspended from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and for a Security Council human-rights investigation. The UK prepares to freeze £20 billion ($32 billion) in Qadhafi’s liquid assets held in the country.
26 February – The UN Security Council imposes sanctions on Qadhafi and his family and refers Libya’s crackdown on rebels to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
28 February – Transitional National Council (TNC) formed in Benghazi. EU imposes sanctions on Qadhafi and close advisers, including an arms embargo and travel ban. Calls grow for a no-fly zone. The US freezes $30 billion in Libyan government assets.
1 March – The UN General Assembly suspends Libya’s membership of the UN HRC. Three Libyan army brigadiers defect to the TNC.
2 March – Heavy fighting around Brega. Qadhafi forces also bomb Ajdabiya. TNC requests UN no-fly zone and air strikes against Qadhafi’s forces. Rebels take control of Ghadames, in the southwest.
3 March – ICC launches investigation into war crimes by Qadhafi and his inner circle.
5 March – TNC declares itself the sole representative of Libya.
9 March – European parliament calls on all European nations to recognise the TNC.
10 March – France recognises the TNC as Libya’s legitimate government. Qadhafi forces retake Zawiyah. Rebels retreat from Ras Lanuf.
12 March – Arab League recognises TNC, calls for no-fly zone.
13-16 March – Colonel Ali Atiyya defects to the rebels. Ras Lanuf oil refinery damaged, leaving Qadhafi in control of one refinery at Zawiyah. Rebel forces seize a Greek tanker carrying fuel destined for Qadhafi-controlled Libya.
17 March – Security Council authorises a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from Qadhafi’s army (SCR 1973). SCR 1973 excludes an occupation force.
19 March – Air strikes, carried out by French jets, halt the advance of Qadhafi’s forces on Benghazi and target Libya’s air defences. US warships fire missiles at a number of airfields.
20-27 March – Fighting centres on Misrata, Ajdabiya, Zintan. Coalition raids targets across Qadhafi-held Libya. Nato takes command of naval and air operations. Rebel forces take control of Ajdabiya and Ras Lanuf. Fighting intensifies around Sirte.
28 March – Qatar becomes the first Arab country to recognise the TNC as the legitimate Libyan government.
30 March – Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa defects and flies to the UK.
23-24 April – Rebels claim control of Misrata. Qadhafi forces shell the city.
25 April – Qadhafi circumvents sanctions by importing gasoline and other refined products through a loophole in UN sanctions regime that allows purchases by companies not on a list of banned entities.
30 April – A Nato missile attack in Tripoli kills Qadhafi’s youngest son, Saif al-Arab, and three grandchildren. The Libyan leader survives the attack. He has not been seen in public since.
5 May – TNC secures agreement from the Libya contact group, which includes the US, France, the UK and Italy, Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan, to access cash from oil sales. Qatar Petroleum will broker the deals and disburse the funds.
9 May – Oil payments for TNC crude are being made through a Qatari trust fund in US dollars netting $100 million from the sale of about 1 million barrels.
17 May – ICC issues arrest warrant against Qadhafi for crimes against humanity. Oil minister Shokri Ghanem believed to have defected through Tunisia.
19 May – Nato arrests Jupiter tanker in Malta. Sources say it was carrying 12,750 tonnes of fuel for use by Qadhafi’s forces. The arrest marks an expansion of the terms of UNSCR 1973 to include stopping fuel supplies to the regime.
23 May – Nato increases bombing raids. UK and France advance plans to utilise ground-attack helicopters.