The first post-conflict shipping line between Libya and Malta was launched yesterday, connecting Tripoli and Valletta twice a week on a 14-hour night passage aboard the M/F Azzurra.

The new scheduled ferry service carries a maximum of 700 passengers, 70 cars, or 25 semi-trailers, as well as 40, 20-foot containers at affordable prices to ease travel.

The ro-ro passenger ferry Azzurra, built in 1964 and operated by Mediterranean Maritime Services, is expected to be a “bridge” to reviving the war-torn country.

The last maritime links to Libya date back around 12 years when the US sanctions on the North African country were lifted, and even then, it was a limited State-owned fleet. The two countries have since been connected by air, except during the conflict.

The Azzurra is 99.8 metres long and has 38 cabins, with a variety of facilities and sizes. It could add a third service depending on its success.

The ferry will leave at 6 p.m. and arrive at 10 a.m. It is designed to offer a full day at either end of the trip, allowing for rest during the crossing.

Mediterranean Maritime Services acted swiftly and has been studying the market since Tripoli fell to the rebels.

It is targeting the business community, as well as NGOs and aid agencies, and envisages that foreign companies could use Malta as a hub, flying their employees to the island and shipping them to Libya.

“We estimate that many companies would be eager to be a part of Libya’s restructuring process,” it said, adding that it was also considering prospective tourism.

The company is composed of three, which are pooling their expertise to form a “strategic alliance Zammit Group, pioneers in shipping, having started the Gozo channel connection; Cypriot-Turkish Fergun Shipping, which operates Eastern-Mediterranean lines; and BH Group, which is involved in the marine business in Libya.

Insisting on the importance of a regular service, Zammit Group director Joseph Zammit, who spearheaded the project, said “a country grows when people can move from one place to another”.

Azzurra is one of a fleet of nine belonging to Fergun Shipping, meaning another vessel can be relied on too if necessary. During the conflict, which started in February, it was used for evacuations to Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Libya itself, and is continuing in its humanitarian role by offering its services for free to transport aid.

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