TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan naval forces captured two vessels suspected of smuggling oil from the North African country after gun battles lasting several hours west of the capital Tripoli, a spokesman for the service said on Friday.
Libyan forces frequently capture vessels smuggling oil and arms off the coast and the North African state has become a haven for migrant smugglers who take advantage of the country’s turmoil to ship people across to Europe.
Ayoub Qassem, a spokesman for the Libyan naval forces, said Ukraine-flagged tanker Routa and a vessel with an unspecified African nation’s flag named Stark were captured early Friday.
“Clashes lasted for three hours, but the two tankers were successfully seized,” Qassem said.
The incident occurred in the Sidi Said area west of Tripoli. Qassem did not report any casualties or give details on what happened to the crew of the vessels or their nationalities.
Six years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is still caught in turmoil among rival military factions who once fought against the former leader but then turned against one another in a multi-sided power struggle.
A U.N.-backed government in Tripoli is struggling to assert control since arriving in Libya more than a year ago. Libya’s oil infrastructure is also often targeted by fighting or blockades as rival groups seek to gain wealth or leverage.
Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Writing Patrick Markey; Editing by Mark Potter