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Libya rebels seize gasoline tanker

Libyan rebel forces last night boarded a fuel tanker belonging to Muammar Qadhafi’s regime, seized it and are sailing the vessel laden with gasoline to Benghazi

The ship was boarded by Libyan nationals acting without the National Transitional Council’s (NTC) knowledge, said a source familiar with the operation. A European government provided logistical support for the action, which is believed to have involved special forces boarding the ship from the air.

Western diplomatic sources were unable to confirm or deny the account of the vessel’s boarding.

The ship, the Cartagena, is carrying almost 40,000 tonnes of gasoline. It belongs to General National Maritime Transport (GNMTC), the state-owned shipping firm under the control of Qadhafi’s son Hannibal.

The operation would be the second time rebels had seized a tanker shipping fuel to the regime. In April, pirates seized a Greek vessel and brought its cargo to the rebel east.

The NTC is thought neither to have approved the act of piracy, nor to have co-ordinated it. The council has been rocked in the past week by the assassination of General Abdel Fattah Younis, its commander-in-chief, and allegations that it has not yet gained full control of the rebel east.

In-fighting between rebel militias in Benghazi in recent days cost four lives and alongside Younis's death may have stalled efforts to take full control of the oil town of Brega.

Nato began interdicting seaborne supplies of fuel to the regime in May, leaving the Cartagena and its cargo stranded in the Mediterranean. It was originally chartered to land the fuel in Tripoli.

In recent weeks, it has been anchored off Malta and then Algeria. It recently returned to Malta to pick up more bunker fuel. It was boarded by special forces while sitting offshore Malta.

At 17:00 UK time on 3 August, the Cartagena was said to be sailing towards Benghazi. Ship-tracking services could not locate the vessel, suggesting its transponder had been shut off.

Meanwhile, the source, who has close knowledge of GNMTC and Libya’s oil industry, said the shipping company remained desperate to sell its fleet – an effort to raise cash and possibly to avoid sanctions. Russian and UK investors had been approached to buy the fleet, said the source.

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