NOC’s Sanallah Accuses Western PFG of Complicity with Smugglers
The Libya Herald has reported that on 1 January, Mustafa Sanallah , Chairman of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC), singled out the western Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) for criticism, accusing them of ‘complicity’ with fuel smugglers in western Libya. Then, at the AGM of the Zawiyya Refinery Compnay, Sanallah actually directly named and criticized the head of the western PFG, Mohamed Kashlaf. Sanallah said that ‘there is a need to prioritize urgent and decisive actions against the organized crime of fuel-smuggling’, adding that the NOC had provided all relevant parties, nationally (in reference to Tunisia) and internationally (in reference to Malta, where much of the smuggled fuel is believed to be transferred and sold on) with all available information on fuel smuggling.
It is well known that the smuggling of fuel, migrants and subsidized goods is rampant in Libya’s coastal region west of Tripoli, and indeed it is a fundamental part of the socio-economic fabric of many of these western communities. As a result, the problem is usually discussed in broad rather than specific terms by Libyan authorities given the scale of the issue and the difficulties inherent in tackling these networks which are embedded in local societies and fiercely defended by the militias that run the operations.
In recent weeks, smuggling activities in western Libya appear to have been ramped up and fuel smuggling has become more visible, in part due to the country’s continuing economic decline and liquidity crisis which make the profits to be made from smuggling networks even more attractive, and in part due to the resumption of crude flows to the Zawiyya refinery after the blockade on the oil pipeline running from al-Sharara and al-Feel oil fields in south-west Libya was lifted.
Sanallah’s attack on the western PFG may be an attempt to put pressure on these forces to stem the high levels of fuel smuggling, especially given that Libya’s coffers are in desperate need of the increased revenue that oil exports from Zawiyya and Mellitah can bring. It was mainly through Sanallah’s negotiations and perseverance with the Zintani blockaders at al-Rayana, combined with local social pressure, that the blockade was lifted. Given there are already rising tensions and an increasing number of incidents occurring between rival militias over control of smuggling networks, as well as anti-smuggling militias attempting to prevent smuggling activities taking place, it seems Sanallah could be applying similar tactics here. However, an alternative motive for directly calling out the western PFG could be to lay the groundwork for LNA forces stationed south of Zawiyya to take control of these ports by weakening the legitimacy of the PFG forces currently guarding the ports.