LONDON Libya imported gasoline from Italian refiner Saras in early April, taking advantage of a loophole in United Nations sanctions that permits purchases by companies not on a U.N. list of banned entities.
Three shipping sources with direct knowledge of the transaction said the cargo was delivered via ship-to-ship transfer in Tunisia before sailing to Libya.
Saras initially declined to comment but late on Tuesday issued a statement saying it had always acted in full compliance with all applicable restrictive measures concerning Libya.
Italian-flagged tanker Valle di Navarra arrived at the Tunisian port of La Skhira on April 3 and then transferred its cargo onto the Libyan vessel Anwaar Libya for shipment to Gaddafi-controlled western Libya, the shipping sources said.
The shipment is legal under U.N. sanctions against Muammar Gaddafi's government because Libya's General National Maritime Transport Company (GNMTC) which owns the Anwaar Libya, is not on a U.N. blacklist.
In its Tuesday statement, Saras denied having sold or delivered gasoline to GNMTC.
GNMTC is thought to be controlled by Muammar Gaddafi's son Hannibal, who is on the U.N. blacklist of individuals subject to travel bans and asset freezes. Doing business with GNMTC is legal as long as there is no evidence that Hannibal Gaddafi will directly benefit from the transaction.
The United States, the United Nations and European Union imposed sanctions on the Libyan government and selected Libyan companies in late February and in March.
Libyan efforts to import fuel were among subjects expected to be raised in Washington on Tuesday when UK Defense Secretary Liam Fox met his U.S. counterpart, Robert Gates.
Reuters reported on April 20 that Gaddafi's government is circumventing international sanctions to import gasoline to western Libya by using intermediaries to transfer fuels between ships in Tunisia.
The Valle di Navarra's owner, Navigazione Montanari SPA, said the tanker had been chartered by Saras for the voyage from Italy to Tunisia.
"We can confirm the Valle di Navarra left Sarroch with a 40,000 tonne cargo and delivered it to La Skhira on April 3," said a source with the owner, who asked not to be named.
Ship tracking data provided by AIS Marine Traffic showed the ship sailed toward Tunisia at the end of March, and sailed away from Tunisia on April 4, after a five-day interlude in which there is no satellite tracking available.
Saras is Italy's third-largest refiner with a 300,0000 barrel-per-day Sarroch unit on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. The ship returned to Sarroch on April 16, the tracking data shows.
Before U.N. sanctions banned transactions with Libya's state-owned National Oil Company (NOC), the Italian refiner regularly traded with NOC and sourced about 40 percent of its crude supplies from the country. NOC is included in the ban.
It is not illegal for Libya to export or import oil or gasoline, but it is illegal to trade with NOC, making it hard for the government to obtain vital gasoline supplies for the country's motorists and to fuel the war against rebels.
The gasoline delivery to Tunisia's La Skhira was one of several ship-to-ship gasoline transfers scheduled to take place this month, adding up to 120,000 tonnes of fuel so far in April.
(Reporting by Emma Farge and Jessica Donati; editing by Richard Mably and Anthony Barker)