Caution for vessels in Libyan waters

17 December 2015

The security situation in Libya remains critical; the absence of a diplomatic solution continues to impact the security of commercial vessels attempting to approach Libyan ports. Extreme caution is advised for commercial vessels operating in Libyan waters.

The country remains cleaved between the internationally recognised Tobruk-led government and the Tripoli-based opposition government. Critical air, land and sea infrastructure remains at risk as fighting continues between the Tobruk-led Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Tripoli-supporting militia coalition, Fajr Libya. Amid the chaos, terrorist elements, including Islamic State in Libya, have gained traction. There is potential for sudden changes in groups controlling key installations and ports. The continued conflict has hindered the ability of Tobruk-led government forces to differentiate between legitimate threats and innocent vessels.

The UN continues attempts to broker peace talks; however, the rival parties remain changeable, and the process is stagnating. Previous attempts at resolution have often resulted in little more than temporary ceasefires, yet neither government is likely to succeed in making significant strategic gains using military tactics.

The resources of both governments are split between fighting their opponents and battling extremist groups, particularly Islamic State, which has taken control of Sirte and is expanding its presence westward along the coastline. The power vacuum has allowed militant extremist groups to gain ground. As the three-way battle continues, oil terminals, air and sea ports continue to be targets for airstrikes. Infrastructure and assets may be purposefully destroyed if captured by an opposing force. Fighting creates a high security risk in several cities, including Sirte, Zintan, Misrata, Derna, Tobruk, Benghazi and Tripoli. 

The influx of refugees attempting to escape to Europe from the Libyan coastline has reached record highs over the summer months. Over 2,600 migrants have been killed as they attempt to board substandard boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Vessels in the area should be prepared for a likelihood that they will be asked by regional or local authorities to assist in Search and Rescue (SAR) operations.

MS Risk advises extreme caution for vessels travelling through the region. There is an increase of violence and criminal activity ashore, as well as possible blockades of ports by protestors. Fighting between the rival governments and extremist groups means that control of certain ports could change suddenly. Finally, shipping vessels should be aware of their obligations and procedures should they be called to assist in SAR operations.

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