By Tom Westcott and Seraj Essul.
Tripoli, 30 August 2013:
A shipment of Benghazi-bound cars commandeered and taken to the Ukraine in March . . .[restrict]has finally arrived in Libya, but a sister ship held ‘ransom’ in the dispute has not yet been released.
A Greek ship carrying the 597 cars arrived in Benghazi Port on Wednesday and the vehicles were unloaded yesterday, five months later than expected. The cars, purchased from Jordan in March by a group of Benghazi businessmen, should have been delivered straight to Libya. However, for reasons that remain unclear, the vessel, MV Faina, instead took them to the Ukraine, where the ship’s operator Tomex Team was based.
Four months later, when another Tomex Team-operated vessel, MV Etel, arrived in Benghazi with a different shipment of cars, the businessmen who had spent four months pursuing legal means to get their vehicles back from the Ukraine took matters into their own hands. They seized the Etel and said they would hold it until their 597 cars were returned, securing a court order within a week.
The cars, impounded since March by the Ukrainian government, were finally released two weeks ago, following high-level meetings between Ukrainian diplomatic staff and Libyan ministers.
The businessmen had said that once the cars were returned, Etel would be released. However, because it is still subject to a court order, the vessel has not yet been able to set sail.
“We don’t have permission to release the ship because we have to wait for a new court order,” Benghazi Port Manager Mustafa Al-Abar told the Libya Herald. He added that the 19 crew, however, were free to leave as soon as they wanted.
Although Al-Abar said he thought the Etel would be released as soon as legal procedures had been finalised by the court, the Benghazi businessmen seem to be divided as to the fate of the cargo ship.
One, Abd Al-Rauf Al-Tajoury, said that the Etel could be released this weekend. Another, however, insisted the vessel would be held until Tomex Team handed over compensation for losses incurred over the last five months.
“The ship will not be released this weekend, because we have a court session booked for 29 September,” investor Nasser Ajaj, told the Libya Herald. He said with the delays, legal fees and shipping costs, the group had lost a lot of money on the deal and were demanding LD 1 million in compensation.
The investors also wanted an additional LD 188,000 to reflect port fees, handling and shipping expenses clocked up since the cars were first loaded in Jordan, Ajaj said.
He pointed out that the cars have lost value during the five months they have been held in the Ukraine. When purchased in March, vehicles were very expensive in Libya but, with many Libyans now importing cars from Europe, Ajaj said the value of secondhand cars had plummeted.
Al-Abar said that most of the investors had promised that Etel would be released when the cars were returned, adding: “They should stick to their promises.”
The captain of the ship, Mykhailo Cononow, declined to speak to the Libya Herald. [/restrict]