Updated 24 August 2021
All Libyan ports, except for the ports of Derna and Sirte, are reported to be operational. While the 2020 ceasefire seems to have brought relative calm to the country, we still recommend assessing all port calls on a case-by-case basis and ensuring appropriate protective measures are incorporated into ship security plans.
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Port situation for internationally trading ships
According to information received from Gard’s local correspondents in Libya, the port situation in Libya as at 24 August 2021 is reported to be as follows:
Our correspondents also confirm that all working ports are currently considered safe for ships and crew. While the 2020 ceasefire seems to have brought relative calm to Libya, the situation could change at short notice and we recommend ship operators to warn their ships’ crews of the volatility of the situation, check with local port authorities as to the port’s status and carry out an assessment of the risks involved prior to entering or transiting Libyan waters.
Trade to ports in Eastern Libya, which are controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA), has reportedly become easier. The LNA has also announced that ships sailing under Turkish flag may be allowed to trade to ports under its control. However, since LNA forces may inspect and/or detain any ship operating in East Libyan waters if they are believed to act on behalf of the Government of National Unity (GNU, former GNA), and Turkey is considered a potential source of weapons and material for the GNU, Turkish-flagged ships may still be targeted.
We also remind ship operators that Western Libya remains the main area of human trafficking and migration from Libya. Although attempts at crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe is more likely during the summer months, all ships should be aware of small boat traffic that might lead to safety-at-sea scenarios. While the situation is a human tragedy which needs to be addressed on the political level, it is also represents a major problem for shipowners. Our Insight of 8 October 2020 shares our member Maersk Tankers A/S’ experience when one of its ships picked up 27 migrants in waters close to the Tunisian-Libyan border in September 2020.
Port entry conditions triggered by COVID-19
In April 2021, the Libyan Ports and Maritime Transport Authority published a manual detailing the measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for ships calling at Libyan ports. A copy of the original manual is available here.
However, as the COVID-19 situation may change quickly and it can be difficult to maintain a full overview of the areas affected by the outbreak as well as port and travel restrictions being enforced at any given time, we strongly recommend that ship operators and masters, well in advance of arriving at any port, seek guidance from local port authorities and ships’ agents on restrictions and other preventive measures currently in effect. In addition, the International Group of P&I Clubs has launched an online COVID-19 tracker to assist shipowners, charterers, operators, and other parties in the maritime sector to track country and port specific advice around the world.
Looking for additional sources of information on COVID-19? On Gard’s COVID-19 hot-topic webpage you can find a compilation of links to relevant websites, guidelines and Gard material that may assist ship operators, masters and crews to stay alert and prepare and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Despite the ceasefire, we recommend Members and clients assess all port calls on a case-by-case basis and instruct their ships to continue to exercise caution when entering its ports and waters. It is also worth noting that an area bounded by the Libyan coastline and 34-00N is considered a controlled area with ongoing military activity. Furthermore, the LNA has declared a no sail zone (NSZ) on the Eastern Libyan coast. According to the NATO Shipping Centre (NCS), the NSZ is undefined in time and space. However, it indicates that the area stretches from Derna to Al Bayda and may also extend to Benghazi. The NCS further advises that the zone is most likely aimed at deterring the transit/smuggling of weapons and other materials to Eastern Libya.
For ships in transit, i.e. ships that are not bound for Libyan ports, we therefore recommend considering routes north of 34-00N to avoid any potential misidentification. For ships calling at a Libya ports, or are otherwise required to operate closer to the Libyan coast, we recommend the following:
Some Flag Administrations may require a heightened security level for ships trading to Libya, meaning that ships must implement additional protective measures in accordance with the formal Ship Security Plan (SSP). As an example, on 5 March 2021 the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) instructed RMI-flagged ships entering Libyan territorial waters to operate at Ship Security Level 2.
For tankers trading to this region, our correspondents recommend the following:
We also emphasise the importance of paying close attention to the NAVAERA III warnings in force at any given time as military exercises are held in the Mediterranean Sea at regular intervals. It is also worth noting that the mandate of the ongoing EU military operation in the Mediterranean Sea, EUNAVFOR MED IRINI, has been extended until 31 March 2023. This EU mission was launched on 31 March 2020 to monitor Libya’s UN arms embargo and can carry out inspections of vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya suspected of carrying arms or related material to and from Libya in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2292 (2016). The mandate of operation IRINI was initially scheduled to last until 31 March 2021 but has now been prolonged by another two years. Ships are also encouraged to check in with the NATO Shipping Centre (NCS) upon entering the Mediterranean Sea and mariners should review the “Central Mediterranean” section of NCS’ assessment: “Threat to commercial shipping operating in the Mediterranean”.
The above recommendations are in addition to the usual sanctions checks, given that a number of Libyan individuals and entities are subject to international sanctions. Please refer to the “Sanctions” section on Gard’s website for relevant information and advice.
We are grateful to Gargoum Maritime Services and Inspections and Shtewi Legal & Pandi Services for their assistance in the preparation of this update.
The US International Port Security Program
In accordance with its latest Port Security Advisory, the US Coast Guard (USCG) has determined that ports in Libya are not maintaining effective anti-terrorism measures. Ships are also advised to “proceed with extreme caution when approaching all Libyan oil terminals, particularly in eastern Libya, due to potential violent and criminal activity based upon recent attempts by armed, non-state actors to engage in illicit export of oil.” The advisory also reminds the shipping industry that UN Security Council Resolution 2441 authorizes the UN Sanctions Committee to impose certain measures on vessels attempting to illicitly export crude oil from Libya and that this resolution imposes several restrictions regarding loading, transporting, or discharging crude oil from Libya which may include the possible denial of port entry.
Under the US Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA), the USCG is required to assess the effectiveness of antiterrorism measures implemented in foreign ports from which US documented vessels and foreign vessels depart on a voyage to the US and other foreign ports believed to pose a security risk to international maritime commerce. As ports with ineffective antiterrorism measures are identified, this information is published in the Federal Register and the USCG will impose conditions of entry on vessels arriving in the US that visited such ports as one of their last five ports of call. Under the conditions of entry, affected vessels must:
Any affected vessel that does not meet the stipulated conditions may be denied entry into the United States.
The complete list of ports considered to have ineffective antiterrorism measures along with the associated conditions of entry are included in the policy notices available on the US Coast Guard website: International Port Security Programs.