On September 12, 2022, the vessel “Queen Majeda”, which was transporting for the third time to Albania Marine Gasoil of Libyan origin, was stopped by the Albanian authorities and the crew was accused of “Trading and transporting goods that are contraband”. Three months after the vessel’s detention, only part of the crew remains behind bars, with no word on whether this is the first time the vessel has breached the United Nations embargo on trading crude oil from Libya, and whether there are other actors involved in this affair. The prosecution in its investigations claims falsification of the documents of origin and transport. The correspondence with letters of order with Libyan authorities has started, while the judicial process has been grounded.
Author: INA Newsroom
Under the flag of Cameroon, on September 12, 2022, around 2:30 p.m., the vessel “Queen Majeda” belonging to the company “Eldawadi Shipping LTD”, owned by Nuri Eldawadi, completed the voyage from Libya to Albania, and was getting ready to dock at the port of Porto Romano, announced since 2019, a free port zone. The crew were identified as nine Libyans and one Syrian.
“With ten crew members, the oil tanker belonging to a company “Eldawadi Shipping LTD”, which is registered in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, had left Libya with a cargo of 2272.71 tons of oil and arrived at the Albanian coast with the aim of performing customs practices for the Albanian importing entity “Kastrati” sh.a”, – is explained in one of the documents of the Durrës prosecutor’s office available to INA Media.
Within a few hours, the load of several tons of oil described as “Marine Gasoil 1000 PPM”, in other words oil for ships and not for land transport, was seized. The suspicions not only of Albanians but also of foreign agencies, that oil was being smuggled in cooperation towards Albania, at the top of four months, continue to focus only on the crew consisting of nine Libyans and one Syrian.
The same circumstances are mentioned in the court documents, – “It is worth noting that this ship, through “GK Maritime” with representative E.K. had previously announced its intention to anchor in Porto Romano, with a load of oil, in order to sell it to the Albanian entity “Kastrati sh.a.” – say the judges, in the decision provided by INA.
Facsimile from the Durrës court decision
An Albanian who represents the Albanian agency that dealt with the procedure for customs clearance of the Libyan ship has also been placed under indictment. Through the press office, the prosecutor Edmond Koloshi, who is processing the investigation file, told INA Media that “The case is under investigation. There is an Albanian citizen under investigation and he is concretely the citizen E.K.”.
The prosecutor adds that – “at this moment there are no other Albanian persons or Albanian companies under investigation”.
Experts tell Investigative Network Albania that the value of the seized oil is estimated to be 1.5 to 2 million dollars. In the same voice, the expert of the economy, Zef Preci affirms for INA Media that “taking into account the prices of the retail oil market of the period, the amount of contraband captured in mid-September, if it were to be sold into the domestic market, is estimated at about 2 million euros”.
Emphasizing the importance of this assessment, a customs official, under the condition of anonymity, stated for INA Media that until the moment of publication of the article, the Customs Directorate has not been notified by the police or the prosecution to penalize the ship “Queen Majeda”, that is, the imposition of a fine that would give an official estimate on the actual value of the cargo.
Regarding the seizure procedures and the penalization of suspected smugglers, he emphasizes that, “after the cargo is ascertained, the customs are notified and the goods are evaluated. This penalty was not imposed because no one asked us. When smuggling is detected by anyone, we make a report that goes to the police and everything remains frozen until the debt is paid. But on the other hand, if there is evidence that smuggling is being carried out, it will be waited until it is unloaded, because smuggling presupposes illegal entry” – asserts the official.
However, despite the procedure expressed above by the customs officials, the Albanian authorities have seized the ship, as well as raising charges, in absence of unloading the goods, or even approaching of the ship near the port of Porto Romano.
The case has been referred for investigation by the police against economic-financial crime at the Durrës Prosecutor’s Office, for the offense “Smuggling of goods for which excise duty is paid” and “Storage of goods that are contraband” (Articles 172 and 179 of the Criminal Code). Meanwhile, it turns out that the Prosecutor’s Office registered the criminal case under the charge of “Trading and transportation of goods that are contraband” (Article 178), which has a margin of punishment in case of proof from 5-10 years in prison.
The ship “Queen Majeda” at port
For this decision of the prosecutor’s office, lawyer Isuf Shehu insists that this case should be investigated directly according to Article 171 of the Criminal Code (Smuggling of prohibited or restricted goods) and Article 25 (Meaning of cooperation), since there is talk of prohibited and restricted goods i.e., embargoed goods.
“This is the right charge that had to be raised, because the cargo is prohibited goods according to a resolution of the United Nations Security Council. The basic criterion of the limitation is met, so the charge should have been this”, concludes the lawyer’s legal explanation for INA Media.
The prosecution has not yet given way to doubts whether this amount of oil was being traded repeatedly, despite the sanctioning of resolutions 2278, 2259, 2213, 2362 of the UN Security Council, based on which involvement in the exploitation and export of illegal crude oil in Libya is prohibited.
When asked by the media about “Queen Majeda”, the prime minister replied that he had faith in justice.
“I don’t deal with ships, the matter belongs to the justice institutions, the police have done their duty and on the other hand, if the media also does its duty and does not use its power to misinform or attack and impose fines either for state authorities, whether for business facilities, this would be a contribution to make Albania better”, – declared the Prime Minister at that time.
What happened on September 12, the suppliers changed their mind, but also the customers
On September 5, 2022, the vessel “Queen Majeda” departs from Benghazi, Libya with a cargo of 2272.71 tons of oil destined for Porto Romano. This ship approached the Albanian coast on the 12th of the same month.
The announcement of the anchoring was communicated to the relevant authorities 24 hours before the arrival of the ship, also by the field agent of the Albanian company “GK Maritime”, registered in the Register of Private Entities in 2021. The captain of the Libyan ship, Z.A. , according to the prosecution, sent the ship’s documents in photocopied form in advance through the “WhatsApp” platform. But the docking of the ship and the clearance of the oil would not be carried out.
The prosecution insists that when the “Queen Majeda” approached the Albanian coast, on September 12, at 9 am, and the crew was waiting for the captain’s announcement to anchor in Porto Romano, the marine police services approached the ship, which accompanied it towards the port of Durrës.
“I got the oil from the Libyan national company Brega, which deals with wholesale fuel sales in Libya. I want to explain that at the moment of arrival in Porto Romano, I communicate with the port master there and he directs me to the pier where I have to unload, and I don’t know which operator the cargo is for, since this procedure is handled by the owner of ship” – said in front of the judicial police officers, the captain of the ship Z.A.
Asked by the investigative group about the actions of the ship “Queen Majeda” when it approached the Albanian coast, one of the customs officers involved in this case, states that “The procedure is as follows: the maritime agency makes the announcement 24 hours before the arrival of the ship and bring it to the customs office and log it. In the notification, the data on the loaded goods, the nature of the goods, the port of loading, the ship’s flag, the recipient of the goods, the quantity of the goods are given.”
“The date and arrival of the ship in Porto Romano is also written in this document. At the moment the ship is docked at the quay, the maritime agent assembles the practice group, which consists of the captaincy, police, customs, doctor and anti-smuggling officers, ISHTI inspector and private surveyor. As a free practical procedure, the samples are taken by the inspector in the presence of the customs to do the quality control and then the inspector makes the seal measurements in the presence of the customs and anti-smuggling officers. and also, the latter take the measurements and the recipient and the sender of the goods are determined” – he adds.
Among those who were questioned at the prosecutor’s office, it turns out that the customs officials explained the origin of the oil.
“This document is issued by the chamber of commerce, the respective customs and the refinery where it is produced. In this case, the documents were issued from the terminal named RAS EL MUNGAR, Benghazi”.
“In the transport document and the customs declaration, according to the documents, the sender is noted and the receiver is “Kastrati” sh.a., as in the two previous cases. Regarding the goods, this ship has brought “Marine Gasoil” fuel, which is not for free circulation in Albanian territory and is used for supply for ships. I, as a physical customs officer, after doing the paper procedures, send them to the person in charge and after they see the documents and assess whether they are ok or not, the order to unload the ship is given. Then the pipeline is sealed and the unloading is directed to the warehouses that the entity has determined will unload the goods. Before the unloading, the measurements are carried out in the warehouse and then the unloading begins”, – closes the testimony, another customs agent, for the investigation group.
However, these actions for customs clearance and unloading of the oil were not carried out, as the parties claim that what happened between land and sea on the morning of September 12 was a “a change of heart” on the price of purchase and sale of the oil.
“Specifically, the notification of the institutions began; captain’s office, customs, border police and after waiting, I heard from citizen G.C. who was a representative of the company “Kastrati” that they will not operate with this ship. Seeing the situation, I made the announcements again, for this ship to start the unloading procedures” – the representative of “GK Maritime” testifies for the authorities.
Cargo Arrival Notice Near Porto Romano
But, as the documents prove that the Libyan team announced through the Albanian maritime company “GK Maritime” almost 24 hours before it docked, just as suddenly the crew asked to leave without even arriving at port. The ship with 10 people on board, which had sailed on previous occasions to Porto Romano, and had been sailing to Durrës for almost a week to deliver its third cargo, did not continue the procedures of entering port, where it was supposed to unload the oil cargo, in order to carry out customs practices, but asked to leave immediately.
The investigative group, under conditions of anonymity, insists to Investigative Network Albania that it has questioned all the protagonists of this case.
“Formally, the practices are all in order. We think that the documentation presented by the Libyans is fake, as documentation is all the documentation to carry out a customs practice. Both the buyer and our authorities cannot judge whether they are fake. The cargo certificate contains the name of the captain, the owner of “Alpha Green oil product trading LLC- Dubai” or “Eldwadi Shipping LTD”, destined for the client in Porto Romano, Durrës”, one of the members of the investigation group told INA Media.
How was “Queen Majeda” discovered?
The court underlines that the Durrës police received information from other law-enforcement bodies about the ship’s travel towards Albania, which was expected to be processed in Porto Romano.
“It has been decided that the ship is subject to full control, both in terms of documents and physically. From the ship’s documentation, from the cargo manifest, it is established that the amount of oil was loaded in the port of Benghazi, Libya and had requested to be processed for sale in Porto Romano, Durrës” provide in the documents the prosecutor of the case, Edmond Koloshi, who according to the research of Investigative Network Albania, turns out that after the controls in flagrante delicto, issued a seizure order dated September 23, 2022 for the original documents.
Exactly 11 days after the operation where the judicial police examined and received the accompanying documents sent to the Maritime Agency “GK Marine”.
The documents signed on September 5 in Benghazi such as the certificate of quality, certificate of origin, certificate of analysis from Ozu Marine Service LTD and Bunker Credit Delivery Note, are considered forgeries according to the prosecution.
Cargo Origin Document
“It is suspected that this quantity of oil is entirely contraband and its accompanying documentation is falsified”, confirms the court, supporting the preliminary data of the prosecution. Among the seied documents are also the letters of the agency notified about the anchoring, which includes the port of registration, arrival in Albania, the ship’s data, the amount of cargo and the recipient of the goods, in this case the subject “Kastrati” sh.a.
The embargo was violated, but only Libyans are suspected of smuggling
Despite the suspicions that the embargo was violated, in Albania, in addition to the four arrested Z.A. 54 years old, A.A. 43 years old, M.A.A. 25 years old and B.T. 25 years old, suspected of being smugglers, none of the Albanian companies involved in the import, customs clearance and declaration procedures of the oil in question, are suspected or under investigation for the criminal offenses of filed by the Durrës Prosecutor’s Office.
Identified as the drivers of the tanker, four people ended up under arrest for smuggling in collaboration, while 6 others, T.B., M.A., A.B., A.E., A.H. and A.K., have been living inside the ship that is stuck in the port of Durrës for four months now, as persons under investigation under own recognizance. After the granting of security measures by the court of first instance, the suspects have not yet appeared before the appeal court, and everything seems to have been stuck on the letters forwarded since November 7, 2022, from official Tirana to Libya.
The lawyer of the arrested Libyans, Aleksandër Ndreraj, contacted by INA Media, says that after representing them only in the court of first instance in Durrës, he was replaced by another defender.
“I was found by their family members and the Libyan embassy, then when I started to translate the documents from Arabic in Tirana, because there is no such translator in Durrës, they asked me to drop the case because they had found others” – he says for Investigative Network Albania.
For the prosecution, the testimony of the captain of the ship clarifies why “Kastrati” sh.a withdrew from the signed contract and why the crew asked to leave Albanian waters immediately. The captain admitted during his testimony, what the documents confirmed, the transportation of oil from Benghazi to Porto Romano, and the abandonment of its sale and purchase.
“We came to Durrës and were waiting to deliver the cargo. Suddenly the owner of the company called us and told us that we will have to wait as the Albanian company had requested a price reduction. They had not agreed on the price, even though the companies had agreed in advance”, – says the suspect.
The captain admits that he sailed with the “Queen Majeda” to transport Libyan oil to Albania, also in the months of July and August of 2022.
“This was the third trip,” – he testifies.
This statement confirms the prosecution’s suspicions that beyond the current load, the ship “Queen Majeda” had sailed to Porto Romano another two more times, on May 8, 2022, with a quantity of 1750 tons of 1000 PPM oil and three months later, on 7 August 2022, with 2235.90 tons of 1000 PPM oil.
Even for these two episodes, the prosecution requests to be informed by the crew whether the documentation submitted by the captain (already under arrest) was issued by the relevant authority or not, or is it a forged document.
“Albania’s request is clear”, – stated a source at the Ministry of Justice who was committed to giving way to the letter from the Durrës prosecutor’s office. “It is requested whether or not the National Oil Corporation in Libya (NOC) has authorized the export of this amount of oil. If the answer is negative, we have a clear case of smuggling in collaboration,” the official told INA.
The previous voyages of “Queen Majeda”
From the documents available to Investigative Network Albania, it is noted that the same corporation (NOC), in May 2022, allegedly signaled that the ship “Queen Majeda” (IMO 91178806), had loaded Libyan oil products in Benghazi for illegal export and was headed towards Albanian ports.
INA Media requested a comment from the National Oil Corporation in Libya (NOC) on the situation created and the suspicions raised by the Albanian justice institutions. As of the time of publication of the article, NOC has not responded.
Identified as an oil tanker, the vessel, contracted on previous occasions as well by the Albanian oil import company for transport of “Marine Gasoil 1000 PPM”, in one of the previous trips to Albania, had encountered problems with the Italian authorities, on May 25, 2022.
“Queen Majeda” is mentioned in documents of the Guardia di Financa and then by the Naval Operative Section of Reggio Calabria. An Italian pre-trial judge at the time issued a warrant for the preventive seizure of the oil and 13 of the crew’s phones. The decision of the Court of Reggio Calabria dated May 30, 2022, came after the notification of the coast guard of Taranto that it suspected the ship “Queen Majeda” of 53 violations of an administrative nature related to the safety of navigation.
“For this reason, it was subject to an administrative seizure, with the ban on resuming the voyage without first carrying out the necessary interventions to solve the critical issues encountered and to secure the transported cargo”, say the Italian authorities, in the control actions they carried out with the Coast Guard of Taranto.
Court Judgment of Reggio Calabria
But the Italian authorities ordered the release of the cargo on June 10, to continue its travel towards Albania.
“It turns out that this ship came at least two more times during the June-September period to our country.” – claims a customs official for INA Media.
He further explains that in the customs declarations, the ship “Queen Majeda” originating in Libya, appears in 43 customs practices. The customs agencies that have carried out actions in these cases are Celaman in 42 cases and Alushi Trans in one case.
“For the cases of the recipients of the fuel transported by it, this is information of a confidential nature and is covered by the condition of professional secrecy. And for the last case, I cannot answer who the buyer company is, since we do not have the required information, in the conditions where there was no customs declaration and a customs declaration was not completed, which would contain the required data from your side” – the customs official concludes his explanation for INA Media.
Within 2022, the ship “Queen Majeda” has traveled to Albania with cargoes of oil on three different occasions, with the last time being a catalyst for the initiation of an investigation into the possibility of falsification of documents of origin of the cargo and trafficking of crude oil, in violation of UN resolutions.
However, many questions still remain without an answer: Why were the institutions of justice set in motion only after 3 voyages of this ship, when there were doubts about the falsification of documents from previous voyages as well, and in the absence of such suspicions, why an investigation is required only now, on the previous cases, when the first warning about the possibility of cargo trafficking was made in the month of May? Why, after a one-week trip on the part of “Queen Majeda”, the latter and the buyer abandon the contract at the last moment? Why did the Prosecutor’s Office file charges for smuggling, when no action was taken to clear the goods from “Queen Majeda”? Why did it take 10 days for the case prosecutors to request the original shipping documents? And finally, why up to this moment only the crew of the ship that carried out the transportation of a cargo is indicted, while the shipping order is made by the company itself?
Many questions, which still await clarification, through a process blocked in the Court of Appeal, with 4 people behind bars and 6 others who have been living on board a ship anchored in the Port of Durrës for months.
Ky shkrim është pjesë e projektit që mbështetet financiarisht nga Zyra e Mardhënieve me Publikun e Ambasadës së SH.B.A. në Tiranë. Opinionet, gjetjet, konkluzionet dhe rekomandimet e shprehura janë te autor-it/ve dhe nuk përfaqesojnë domosdoshmërisht ato të Departamentit të Shtetit. / This article is part of a project that is financially supported by the Public Relations Office of the US Embassy in Tirana. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.