A Syrian-born Maltese man is one of five people arrested in Tripoli over alleged smuggling of diesel from the beleaguered North African state.

He was arrested on Wednesday in an anti-smuggling operation by the Zuwara coastguard branch. The Maltese man was the ship’s engineer.

Sources said the Libyan coastguard intercepted the Togo-registered oil tanker Sovereign M while it was anchored off the port city Sabratha to the west of Tripoli.

The ship, operated by a Maltese company, was allegedly waiting for a shipment of fuel to be smuggled out of the country when it was boarded.

The vessel was then escorted by the coastguard to the naval base in Tripoli on Thursday night where the men were handed over to local police authorities for investigation.

The ship’s captain is Egyptian and the first officer a Croat. It also had two other crew members from Egypt and Georgia.

In a post on its Facebook page, the Zuwara coastguard said the authorities intended to use “an iron fist” against those stealing Libyan resources.

Fuel smuggling has been a common source of revenue for individual Libyan militia groups as the country remains split between two rival administrations.

The internationally recognised government is based in the eastern city of Tobruk while the self-declared administration in Tripoli controls large swathes of territory in the west.

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