Russian oil tanker captured by Libya, 12 crew to be questioned

Moscow has launched an investigation into the detention of a tanker with 12 crew members, sailing under the Russian flag, captured by Libyan military forces and taken to Tripoli. There, a senior official of the self-declared government accused the crew of smuggling oil.

Mekhanik Chebotarev tanker with five million liters (one million gallons) of gasoline was captured in the Mediterranean Sea near the port city of Zawara by forces from Libya Dawn, a military group supporting the country’s new self-declared government, the General National Congress, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

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"We received a signal on the presence of a ship transporting an illegal cargo of petrol near Zuwara,” 160 kilometers (100 miles) west of Tripoli, Captain Taoufik Mohammad Assakir, operations chief for central Libya, told French news agency AFP.

As the ship was taken to a naval base in Tripoli, its 12 crew members, including a woman, were detained. According to RT’s Madina Kochenova, the militants reportedly have taken their documents and cellphones, and are going to interrogate the crew “to determine the purpose of the ship’s arrival.”

Moscow has already demanded an immediate release of the Russian nationals, as well as the ship, and an ivestigation was launched into the matter.

"Our embassy is currently in contact with local authorities and is clarifying the fate of our crew," Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, said, as cited by RIA-Novosti. "Everything that needs to be done will be done to free them and to resolve this incident."

Oil Marine Group, the ship’s owner, said in a statement that the tanker had no cargo, Interfax reported.

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

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The internationally recognized Libyan government, currently based in the east of the country, has made no comment on the incident yet, according to Reuters.

Following a revolution in 2011, when the country’s leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed, Libya became torn by a civil war, divided by new administration in the capital city of Tripoli and the internationally recognized government, ousted to the country’s far east. Some regions of the oil rich country are currently seized by groups, loyal to Islamic State.

In 2011, air and naval forces of the US-led coalition intervened in Libya, and, according to a report by United Nations Human Rights Council, the NATO air campaign took lives of 60 civilians