Archive for the ‘Libya’ Category

Stop Donald Trump from Colonizing Your Brain

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Originally published on Tabletmag.com on May 21 2017: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/234667/stop-trump-colonizing-your-brain

Like a Libyan dictator of old, the leader is everywhere, including inside your head
By Ann Marlowe
May 21, 2017 • 10:00 PM

I keep trying to finish this essay, but every six three hours or so there’s a major new Trump scandal to react to.

It reminds me of a remark in the German filmmaker Wim Wenders’ 1976 movie Kings of the Road. A German character says that Americans have “colonized our subconscious.” He means the music, the movies, the blue jeans that formed hipster identity in 1970s Germany.

Trump has colonized our subconscious—in fact, he was succeeding at that even during the campaign. (Too many were ready to embrace a psychopath who had no internal censor because a decade of stultifying political correctness had led to a craving for something that felt like truth-telling, even if it wasn’t.) And now a fevered fixation on Trump, Trump, Trump is playing into his hands.

Usually, you have to be a dictator to accomplish this. What’s happening here reminds me of visiting Libya in the first heady days of its freedom from Gadhafi.

I spent about six weeks in eastern Libya in spring 2011, when a million people woke from a 42-year-long nightmare and dipped their toes into ordinary life again. The most emblematic story I heard in Benghazi was told to me by someone who, even more than today’s citizen activists, dropped everything to do what she thought was right. She was a dental professor who, on Feb. 17, 2011, walked out of the classroom where she was grading exam papers and didn’t go back for seven months. It was more important to help make a new society.

This brilliant woman, Iman Bugaighis, eventually did go back to teaching. She also spoke repeatedly of the need to root out the “little Gadhafi in our heads.” Without doing that, she said, there would be no real democracy in Libya. (Today, there’s too much democracy in Libya. But that’s another story.)

From what Iman and many other Libyans told me, Gadhafi’s regime was omnipresent. The TV, the radio, the posters in the street, and the photos in government offices: Gadhafi, Gadhafi, Gadhafi. You were never able to get him out of your head.

Another Libyan spoke of the regime’s “organized confusion,” a deliberate effort to govern by impulse so that no one could think straight and organize to resist. The regime did crazy things to make sure you paid attention. One day, the school curriculum might be totally changed, or the military academy moved hundreds of miles, or English and French books banned, or any madness you can imagine.

Once your life revolves around hating someone, you’re finished as a thinker, artist, human
Starting to sound familiar? In totalitarian societies, the need to focus obsessively on the regime helps grow a little Leader inside one’s head. Even in opposition, there’s no escape. And once your life revolves around hating someone, you’re finished as a thinker, artist, human.

Since Trump’s election, friends of mine who had no prior interest in politics, people who never even voted most of the time, have been marching, Tweeting obsessively, talking about getting involved with “the resistance.” Some are arty people who are far to the left, others are rentiers, bon vivants. Before the election, some were spending money and enjoying life. Others were involved with Mandarin art activities, pursuits that no longer seem urgent.

Meanwhile, I’ve met other people from a wide range of professions who have been doing anti-Trump research, often very good research, as citizen journalists. Twitter is full of their work, even though it’s the shrill simplifiers who get most of the attention.

It’s like what happened to many Americans after Sept. 11. Some joined the military or got a degree in Middle Eastern studies. More eccentrically, I learned Farsi and went to write about Afghanistan.

Is this drastic change in interests healthy? Yes and no. Yes to the point where it corrects an unhealthy ignorance of political matters and isolated self-absorption. But no, when you stop producing or consuming culture or art. No, when you can’t get Trump out of your head.

I force myself to stop checking Twitter and read a book instead, preferably one written a long time ago and in a foreign language. Go to a museum now and then. An opening. Moderation. Balance. Pick a piece of the work and do it, steadily and surely. I think of an almost 2,000-year-old rabbinical edict: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”

Whose Convenience? The Murky World of Bottom-Feeding Shipping Registries

Monday, December 5th, 2016

originally published in the December 12 issue of the Weekly Standard: http://www.weeklystandard.com/print/whose-convenience/article/2005622

Whose Convenience?
The murky world of bottom-feeding shipping registries
DEC 12, 2016 | By ANN MARLOWE

Hurd’s Bank, July 2015
Sixteen miles out to sea from Valletta, Malta, safely into international waters, dozens of large ships sit at anchor in July of last year. An hour before the late summer sunset, the sea and sky are nearly the same blue. That day, more than forty vessels are in the free, shallow-water harbor known as Hurd’s Bank. Crew members—pudgy men in cheap sportswear—lounge on the rails of their vessels, enjoying the end of the day. Ship owners often leave skeleton crews on board these vessels, who are supplied with food and water from shore. They wait for the right moment or the right deal for their often-illicit cargos. Hurd’s Bank isn’t the only such free offshore anchorage in the world, but it’s the only one in Europe.

It’s a peaceful scene, but Hurd’s Bank helps keep the slow-burning Libyan civil war going. Many of the vessels here are tankers, and some carry diesel purchased in Libya at the local, subsidized price, diesel which is then illegally exported to be sold for 15 to 20 times as much off the coast of Malta. The tankers that hold Libyan diesel here have loaded it at western Libyan ports, such as Zuwara. Buying at the subsidized price—or simply appropriating the fuel—and selling a few hundred miles away on Hurd’s Bank is an easy way for

Libya’s militias to finance themselves.

Among the ships out on Hurd’s Bank in the summer of 2015 were “two vessels that are involved in fuel smuggling,” according to a recent report by the U.N. Security Council Panel of Experts on Libya. One was the Amazigh F, an oil tanker owned by the Basbosa Shipping Company. The Marshall Islands address of Basbosa Shipping is the same as that of ADJ Swordfish Ltd. (now ADJ Trading, Ltd.), a company controlled by a Libyan named Fahmi Ben Khalifa together with investors from Malta and Egypt. The other of the two ships was the Basbosa Star, then owned by ADJ Swordfish.

Before anchoring off Malta that July, both the Amazigh F and the Basbosa Star had sailed to Libya multiple times. And on each of their trips, the U.N. panel notes, the ships had shut down their automatic identification systems as they approached the Libyan coast, “following the pattern of smugglers.”

“One individual stands out in the fuel smuggling business from Zwara,” the U.N. panel writes: Fahmi Ben Khalifa, also known as Fahmi Salim. “He has a long record of smuggling. During the Qadhafi regime he was imprisoned for a period for drug smuggling.” In addition to his Maltese company, Fahmi Salim “also chairs the board of directors of a Libyan company, Tiuboda Oil and Gas Services Limited,” the panel details. Fahmi Salim had tried to get a proper license to bring fuel into Malta from Libya, but Maltese officials rejected the request. That didn’t stop him from doing business.

Both the Basbosa Star and Amazigh F spent most of their time shuttling between Malta and Libya; both operated out of the same Marshall Islands address. But they have something else in common: They are among the hundreds of vessels flying the flag of Palau. The Basbosa Star changed its flag from Sierra Leone to Palau in February of last year; the Amazigh F was Palau-flagged beginning early in 2014. (A year ago, the ship’s name was changed to Sea Master X.) The activities of the Basbosa Star, Sea Master X, and other Palau-flagged vessels point to the larger problem of regulating the world’s many “flags of convenience.” The proliferation of fast-growing, obscure shipping registries offers rogue owners many opportunities to dodge authorities.

The Republic of Palau is a far-flung Micronesian nation made up of hundreds of small islands east of the Philippines. With a population of 21,000, its total landmass is equal to about that of Norman, Oklahoma. Made into an American territory after World War II, Palau became independent in 1994. The country uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, and English is an official language along with Palauan. The cash-strapped little country has relied on fishing and tourism for its scanty revenues. In September 2012, the Palau Registry was launched with two Chinese gambling ships, adding registering vessels to Palau’s endeavors.

Palau is just one of dozens of flags of convenience, many from weak or impoverished—even landlocked—nations desperate for hard currency. Flags of convenience have often been used for legally dubious purposes. The first such registry, in Panama, was attractive as a way to avoid new U.S. regulations on sailors’ working conditions. And from the beginning, it facilitated smuggling: The first vessel with a Panamanian flag of convenience was the aged cargo ship Belen Quezada, which, in the early years of Prohibition, ran liquor from Canada to the United States. Flags of convenience continue to provide cover for owners engaged in criminal enterprises, which include not just smuggling fuel, but such dangerous gambits as shipping weapons to terrorists.

Rogue flag-of-convenience ships tend to be found around the world’s ungoverned or barely governed spaces. They are not, for the most part, a direct menace to the United States, except when we have to go in to clean up the mess created by smugglers overseas. Our Coast Guard—unlike that of, say, Libya—has the resources to protect national waters. According to the Coast Guard, under Port State Control (PSC) regulations, “all foreign-flagged vessels are examined no less than once each year.” A Coast Guard spokesman says, “Generally vessels that have not undergone a PSC exam within 12 months and vessels that are a first-time arrival to the U.S. will receive a Port State Control Safety and Security exam.” Most of those ships are allowed to go on their way: While 8,925 vessels made 73,752 U.S. port calls in 2015, only 202 ships were detained, or 2.2 percent of vessels in American waters. The United States currently bans a grand total of three vessels from its waters.

Flags of convenience range from the big players such as Panama (72 percent of all commercial shipping worldwide) and Liberia, down to landlocked countries such as Bolivia and pariah states including North Korea. Even the big players are vulnerable to misuse. At the end of the ’90s, the Liberian registry of shipping, once the world’s largest, ended up in the hands of convicted war criminal Charles Taylor. The registry was accused of funding U.N.-banned weapons shipments and facilitating the transport of “blood diamonds.” Revenues from the registry provided as much as a third of Liberia’s national income. (The Liberian registry, which is run out of Virginia, was in the news again in 2013 as a donor of $120,000 to Terry McAuliffe’s campaign for governor of Virginia.)

There are several big regulatory bodies that inspect and, when necessary, detain ships, and these rank the flags of convenience by their frequency on the detention lists. Two of the main foreign regulators are the organizations created by the Paris Memorandum of Understanding and the Tokyo MoU, and they represent European and Asian authorities. The U.S. Coast Guard has its own Targeted Flag List that gives special scrutiny to ships flying the flags of Belize, Bolivia, Honduras, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Taiwan, Tanzania, or Thailand. From 2013 to 2015, for instance, 25 percent of Belizean ships and 26 percent of Bolivian ships entering U.S. waters were detained.

Beneath these flags of convenience singled out for regulatory attention, there are other, newer, privately run registers that are below the international radar, plying waters where they aren’t likely to run into port state inspections that would look too closely at where they’ve been and what they’ve been carrying, and otherwise get them into trouble. Several are associated with budget-strapped, low-population, under-governed Pacific island nations, such as Tonga, Tuvalu, and now Palau.

The Tongan registry at one point had 180 ships. It is one of the very few flags of convenience to be forced by international pressure to shut down foreign registrations. Several Tongan-flagged ships turned out to belong to al Qaeda. In January 2002, the Tongan-flagged ship Karine A was found by Israeli authorities to be transporting 50 tons of weapons and ammunition to the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. That same year, 15 Pakistani men on board the Tongan-flagged Sara were arrested and charged with plotting an al Qaeda attack in Europe (the ship had been on its way from Casablanca to Libya when it detoured into Italian waters and was stopped).

More recently Tuvalu’s flag has had troublesome connections. In 2012, Reuters Freight Fundamentals reported that the National Iranian Tanker Company had flagged 11 of its tankers to Tuvalu, in an apparent effort to circumvent impending EU sanctions.

The Palau registry has had its share of vessels in the news—and not in a good way. A ship called the Lucky Star 8 attempted to conceal a recent visit to North Korea. The Amaranthus was found abandoned, moored along the west coast of the Greek island Zakynthos with a hold full of smuggled cigarettes. Even with innocent cargo there are problems: The Minnath—carrying 200 tons of vegetables—was so unseaworthy it nearly sank off India last year.

The Palau registry claims it cares about safety and legality. “Marine Inspections are required to be done annually at no cost to the owner. If a registered vessel under the Palau Flag has showed good record .  .  . the Flag Inspection may be waived for two years.” The registry even says it has a network of inspectors on-call and ready to go to work. But clearly something has gone amiss with this inspection regime if so many Palau-flagged ships are found in questionable circumstances. There’s also an underlying question about motive when you consider that the Palau registry appears not to be a huge moneymaker: The Republic of Palau earned only $100,000 from its registry in its first two years.

Palau is just one example—and it may be far from the worst—of why policing the murky world of shipping registries needs to be done with new vigilance.

Why does EU tolerate Libya’s smuggler kingpin as migrants drown?

Monday, August 29th, 2016

originally published October 16, 2015 in Asia Times News & Features, Middle East (http://atimes.com/2015/10/eu-turns-blind-eye-to-fuel-for-arms-smuggling-as-migrants-drown/)

Libya’s Smuggler King has an EU company and a ship that visits Malta

Links between human, weapons and diesel fuel smuggling are there to see, if the EU wants to

Zwara, the westernmost town on the Libyan coast, boasts turquoise water, endless sand beaches, and delicious fresh fish. You can even sit at a beach café at night and have an espresso while gazing at the Mediterranean. Over the course of several visits in 2011-12, it seemed the most Europeanized place in Libya. But for the last three months, local sources complain that the fish stores have been empty: every fishing boat is involved in human trafficking instead. And photos of corpses of drowned migrants on those endless beaches have shocked the conscience of the world. On Sept. 19th alone, almost 4,800 migrants were rescued off Libya. An estimated 130,000 have crossed from Libya to Europe this year to date, mainly from Subsaharan Africa.

LibyaOn Sept. 28, the European Union Naval Force for the Mediterranean (EUNav) announced that on October 7 it would begin “Operation Sophia” to intercept smugglers’ ships and capture their crews, escalating from the current policy of merely tracking them. EU authorities have identified 17 Libyan boats involved in the trade. It is likely most if not all belong to citizens of Zwara.

One question is why the EU authorities made an advance announcement that gives the ship owners time to switch to other vessels. Another is why the announcement was made just as the summer smuggling season draws to a close.

The biggest question is why the EU ignores the fact that migrant smuggling is just one part of the activities of a well-funded mafia that includes not only the expected Libyan citizens, but also EU citizens.

The EU has mainly turned a blind eye to the trade that brings weapons and ammunition into Zwara for the jihadi coalition controlling Western Libya, Libya Dawn, and takes subsidized Libyan diesel fuel in exchange. By perpetuating the Libyan civil war, this trade also takes lives.

A liter of diesel fuel costs about .10 Libyan dinar or .065 euro in Libya, but upwards of a euro in Malta or elsewhere in southern Europe. The UN has banned both sides of the trade, but the EU doesn’t pay attention very often. (See this recent case of a boat impounded by Greece with weapons aboard)

On Oct. 12, the Libyan Central Bank decided to lift the subsidy on diesel and other subsidized goods in the interest of slowing the hemorrhage of cash out of the country. Fuel represents 70 – 80% of the $9 billion Libya has been spending annually on discounted goods.
Group of Zwara rebels at Libyan-Tunisian border in August 2011

Group of Zwara rebels at Libyan-Tunisian border in August 2011

Anything that will stop the flow of weapons to Libya Dawn is a good thing. They are an unsavory lot, closely linked to Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi, the listed terror group that took part in the killing of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 12 2012. There is hard evidence that Libya Dawn funds the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, the umbrella group of terrorists that includes Ansar. Libya Dawn regularly sends shipments of weapons and ammunition by sea from Tripoli to Benghazi to re-supply Ansar and other terror groups, including IS, who are fighting the Libyan National Army there. The internationally recognized Libyan government is based in the eastern cities of Bayda and Tobruk and controls the east and some of the south; Libya Dawn controls Tripoli and most of the coast from Misrata to the Tunisian border, including Zwara.

To this day, despite its financing of Ansar and its complicity in the smuggling trades, the UN and EU consider Libya Dawn as a legitimate negotiating partner in peace talks with the internationally recognized government. And it looks to many Libyans as though the EU does not want to act against the diesel smuggling and arms trafficking that allows the human smugglers the space to operate.

“The Italians want to stop this migrant business,” said a Zwara citizen, “Bashir,” who is one of a small group who are discreetly acting against the smugglers. “But they don’t care about the other smuggling. We want to stop all! I have met with people from Italian embassy (to Libya, now situated in Tunis) five or six times. They know the names of all the smugglers.”

As Bashir (real name withheld to protect him) and others explain, a group of interlinked crime families, similar to Italian Mafia families and including ties to them, handles human trafficking, diesel smuggling, drug smuggling, and weapons importation. The kingpins have to be taken down — otherwise, people who specialize in human trafficking will just shift to cocaine or weapons or alcohol smuggling for awhile. (Diesel smuggling is the only business that requires specialized ships.) Tolerating one kind of smuggling is like allowing an American Mafia family to continue to control illegal gambling and drug dealing, but to crack down only on prostitution. But many Zwara people think the Europeans don’t really care about any illicit commerce, except that which deposits unwanted migrants on their shores.

As evidence for this, Bashir points to the fact that Zwara’s smuggling king is a shareholder in and a director of a Malta company, and Malta is an EU country.

The smuggling kingpin is Fahmi Slim Mousa Ben Khalifa, aka Fahmi Slim. Slim, a dark-skinned Zwara native said to be about 45, served a few years of a 15-year sentence for drug smuggling in Gaddafi days before the revolution opened the prisons. Now he is so powerful that part of the harbor in Zwara is known simply as “Fahmi Slim’s harbor.” While he is not directly involved with human smuggling currently, locals say that he works with some of the human smugglers in other illegal ventures.

Editor’s note: an official of an international agency confirms that Fahmi Slim is involved in fuel-smuggling activities in Libya and is known to French, Maltese and Italian authorities as a person of interest.

The EU could put pressure on Slim and anyone he controls easily: Fahmi Slim is a partner in and director of the Maltese corporation ADJ Trading Ltd. ADJ, under its old name of ADJ Swordfish, also owns a tanker called Basbosa Star that has a history of movements that suggest diesel smuggling. As Zwara does not have an oil terminal – the nearest one is in Zawia, 100km east – any tankers that call at its port are ipso facto suspect. Asia Times editors have seen evidence linking the Basbosa Star and its sister ship, the tanker Amazigh F, in suspicious activity.

Now, new documents (1) also show Slim’s name on a ship that is being sold with the permission of the Tripoli-based Libya Dawn anti-government. The ship, carrying the IMO number 7900522, was impounded in Misrata, Libya for diesel smuggling years ago, in 2008 or 2009. It remained in Misrata harbor even after Gaddafi’s fall, slowly decaying, until this spring, when the Libya Dawn coalition that controls Misrata decided it wanted the ship — now derelict — removed.

The vessel is shown on the shipping website Equasis as owned by one “Benkhalifa FSM” since May 22 2015. That is Fahmi Slim’s full legal name. Each ship has a unique IMO number from build to scrap, so it is an important way to identify ships after name changes. On Equasis, the name of the vessel numbered 7900522 is given as Tiuboda 1. Tiuboda is near Zwara, and Fahmi Slim is chairman of a Libyan company named Tiuboda Oil Services, #41992.
Troodos ship photo

Troodos/Tiuboda 1 ship photo

On another shipping website, Fleetmon.com, the IMO number 7900522 is associated with the name Troodos – owned by an obscure Spanish company, AlvarGonzalez SA, using a Georgian flag (5). This appears to be the owner from the time when the ship was impounded.

Currently the ship is being marketed by a Mr Albarasi. He showed a prospective Libyan buyer a three page contract from the Tripoli Ministry of Transportation, stating that he, Emrajaa Embarek Abdul Hamid, bought the ship from the deputy Minister of Transportation, one Abdul Alatef Mahmod Ben Amer. On the first page, the document states that the Acting Minister gave permission for the sale on March 30, 2015.

Reached by Viber and responding to written questions in Arabic, Mr Albarasi said he is the sole owner, that “he owns it according to a contract made with Ports and Marine Transportation” and that “nobody else has anything to do with the ship.” He also wrote, “Troodos is the name of the ship.”

Troodos_Tiuboda 1 photoThen, on Sept. 19, reached through the prospective buyer who asked not to be identified, Mr Albarasi admitted that although he had bought the ship from the Tripoli ministry, his partner, one Abdulkarim Nassraat, later sold it to Fahmi Slim, who is now the owner. (Equasis shows Slim bought the ship on May 22.) Zwara sources identify Mr Nassraat as a Zwara native. Note that the sale occurred while the Troodos/Tiuboda 1 was still a derelict ship, unable to move under its own power. This makes it look very much like a “wash” sale.

One piece of Tripoli Port (Lebanon) paperwork –in English – locates the ship, under its Fahmi Slim-registered name of Tiuboda 1, in Tripoli, Lebanon harbor on July 15, “coming from Malta.” Mr Albarasi explained in Arabic, “The ship was towed from Misrata to Malta and the engines were maintained there.” He says the vessel is currently in Beirut obtaining an inspection.

If the EU wants to put pressure on those who have the power to stop human trafficking in Zwara, Fahmi Slim is an excellent place to begin. Why was his ship allowed in Maltese waters? Why is his Maltese company allowed to conduct business? The sale of the “Troodos/Tiuboda 1” to Mr Albarasi and its sale barely two months later to Fahmi Slim suggests that the Tripoli anti-government works hand in glove with Slim. In this instance as in others, Libya Dawn behaves more like a criminal enterprise than a government. Isn’t it time for the EU to bring its formidable soft power to bear to stop these needless deaths by stopping the money flows to the smugglers?

(1)ADJFahmiBenKhalifaAppointedDirector

(2)Fahmi Slim’s full legal name

(3)AlvarGonzalez SA

Ann Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute based in New York City, has written for the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, Tablet Magazine and other publications. She visited Afghanistan 18 times and spent 4 months in Libya in 2011-12. She tweets about Libya at @AnnMarlowe.