06:53 GMT +322 September 2019
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    A Russian-flagged oil tanker is seen in Tripoli Naval Base after coast guard of the central region guards captured it

    Company Denies Oil-Smuggling Charges for Russian Tanker Detained in Libya

    © REUTERS / Hani Amara
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    The charterer of a Russian-flagged tanker detained in Libya issued a statement dismissing oil-smuggling charges.

    "Media allegations that the vessel was smuggling oil from one of Libya’s ports are groundless. The ship was empty. The arrest is illegal," Oil Marin Group said.

    Late Wednesday, media outlets reported that forces loyal to a Tripoli-based Libyan government detained 11 Russian crew members on the Mekhanik Chebotarev oil tanker, allegedly attempting to smuggle oil from a northwest port city.

    According to the company, the troops did not explain the reason for the detainment.

    They turned off the Inmarsat communication system, but the captain managed to report the situation to Russian emergency services.

    Then, the ship was moved and docked in the port of Tripoli. The Libyan forces confiscated the crew’s documents and mobile phones. The authorities have not issued any official statements on the situation.

    Vessel tracking software listed the Mekhanik Chebotarev’s location at the port of Tripoli as of late Thursday.

    Currently, the crew is on board the tanker. According to the company, they have been threatened with detention.

    "The Russian Foreign Ministry, Federal Security Service and Defense Ministry are taking all necessary measures to release the crew and the tanker," according to the statement.

    On Thursday, a Libyan Navy spokesman said Libyan prosecutors will interrogate crew members from the tanker.

    "The case has been assigned to the special prosecutor’s office, the crew has been detained. There will be interrogations to determine the purpose of the ship’s arrival," Colonel Ayub Kassem told RIA Novosti.

    Russia’s Investigative Committee, meanwhile, said it had set up a pre-investigation headquarters in the Caspian region of Astrakhan to address media reports about the tanker's detention.

    Kassem elaborated that the interrogations would be conducted "in accordance with Libyan law and international standards," and said that all crew members are currently at a naval base in Tripoli.

    The spokesman acknowledged there was no oil on board the vessel at the time of its capture, but had information that it was en route to Zuwara to refuel.

    Kassem said this was the latest in a series of "similar contraband incidents" recorded over the past years. The Tripoli-based government is a rival faction to an internationally-recognized Tobruk-based Libyan government.


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