Libya - port situation
Updated 24 October 2023
With the exception of Sirte and Derna ports, Libyan ports are reported to be operational for internationally trading ships. However, given the country’s ongoing instability, we recommend evaluating all port calls on a case-by-case basis.
Port situation for internationally trading ships
According to information received from Gard’s local correspondents in Libya, the port situation in Libya as of 24 October 2023 is reported to be as follows:
- Working: Farwah, Bouri, Melittah, Zawia, Tripoli, Al Khoms, Misurata, Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Marsa El Brega, Zueitina, Benghazi, and Tobruk/Marsa El Hariga
- Closed: Sirte and Derna
Our correspondents also confirm that all working ports are currently considered safe for ships and crew. While the 2020 ceasefire appears to have brough relative calm to Libya, there is still the risk of localised and sudden outbursts of fighting or activism, which might have an impact on port operations. The country‘s oil terminals are particularly vulnerable to activism and strikes and cargo exports have previously been halted on short notice owing to Force Majeure. We recommend ship operators to warn their ships’ crews of the volatility of the situation in Libya, check with local agents and/or port authorities as to the port’s status and carry out an assessment of the risks involved prior to entering or transiting Libyan waters.
The recently reopened Derna port was hit by a powerful storm in September 2023, killing several thousand and destroying and disabling critical infrastructure, including port facilities. However, although Derna port is currently not in operation, and the declared no sail zone (NSZ) along part of the Libyan Eastern coastline from Derna to Al Bayda has been cancelled, the port’s surrounding waters may still be subject to scrutiny by LNA naval patrols. According to the NATO Shipping Centre, the establishment of the NSZ was aimed at deterring the transit/smuggling of weapons and other materials to Eastern Libya. Hence, as long as the conflict between the LNA and the GNU is ongoing the risk of being stopped and detained/penalised by the local coastguard when sailing in this zone cannot be completely ignored. Please refer to IMO Circular Letter No.4585 of 10 June 2022 for details of the NSZ.
Otherwise, trade to ports in Eastern Libya, which are controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA), has reportedly become easier. The LNA has allowed ships sailing under Turkish flag 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 and ships that have called at port in Turkey may still be subject to additional scrutiny.
We also remind ship operators that Libya is a major transit point for human trafficking and migrants heading towards Europe. This has contributed to the development of well-established and resilient smuggling and trafficking networks in the country, primarily in Western Libya, although there have also been an increasing number of migration attempts from the country’s eastern half. While attempts at crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe is more likely during the summer months, ships should always be alert to small boat traffic that could lead to safety-at-sea scenarios. In addition to being a human tragedy, the Mediterranean migrant crisis also represents a significant challenge for ship operators. 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.
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.
For ships in transit, i.e. ships that are not bound for Libyan ports, we still 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:
- Adhere to the international laws of trading and follow the official sea navigation routes to any of the working Libyan ports. Proceed with caution south of 34-00N and liaise with the nearest coastal station to receive a safe track line.
- Despite the Libyan port authority’s cancellation of the NSZ, avoid sailing in the zone when approaching the Eastern parts of Libya.
- Declare the intended voyage and type of cargo to be discharged/loaded to the local agent well in advance of arrival at any Libyan port to allow the agent sufficient time to notify the appropriate authorities.
- Stay in close contact with local port authorities, ship’s agent, or Gard’s local correspondent to obtain the most up to date and reliable information available at any given time.
- As 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), maintain contact with the ship’s flag administration in order to receive their most recent instructions available at any given time.
For tankers trading to this region, our correspondents recommend the following:
- Tankers loading from Libyan ports must undertake all pre-checks and compliance measures to ensure the cargo intended to be loaded has been authorized by the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC). The NOC holds the sole rights and control of all oil exports from the country.
- Operators contracting ships for voyages to Libya must request a certificate of origin from the charterers indicating that the shippers are indeed the NOC or an approved legal entity of the NOC.
- Charterers should establish the authenticity of cargo interests and whether they can rightfully ship oil cargoes from Libya. The shippers should be able to provide a letter or document to prove that the NOC authorizes them to ship the cargo.
- Upon completion of cargo operations and receipt of port clearance, tankers delivering fuel oil to Libya should sail directly out of Libyan waters. Any deviations or delays may be deemed suspicious by local authorities.
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 2025. This EU mission was launched on 31 March 2020 to monitor Libya’s UN arms embargo and can carry out inspections of ships 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). In a letter sent to the IMO in November 2022 (Circular Letter No.4655), the EUNAVFOR MED IRINI Operation Commander expressed his concern about shipping companies apparent lack of knowledge on issues related to the UN embargo against Libya and encouraged masters to adopt cooperative posture if approached by a member of the operation. We also recommend to check in with the NATO Shipping Centre upon entering/leaving the Mediterranean Sea and review its most recent threat assessment for the region.
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.
As Libya is included in the Joint War Committee’s (JWC) Listed Areas for Hull War, Piracy, Terrorism and Related Perils, we also recommend conferring with the vessel’s war insurer well in advance of arrival at any Libyan port.
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.
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:
- implement measures as per the ship’s security plan equivalent to security level 2 while in port in Libya;
- ensure that each access point to the ship is guarded and that the guards have total visibility of the exterior (both landside and waterside) of the vessel while it is in port in Libya;
- attempt to execute a declaration of security while in port in Libya;
- log all security actions in the ship’s security records; and
- report the actions taken to the relevant Coast Guard captain of the port prior to arrival in US waters.
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.