The Georgian shipmaster of the Anwaar Afriqya was on the doorway of the bridge when the missile struck. He heard a loud crushing sound before an explosion catapulted him violently through the door.
“The rocket touched my navigation deck and two seconds… explosion and after that I was dropped there,” Selman Dzhabnize, 52, said, pointing to a spot about two or three metres from the doorway.
“I don’t know what happened. When I woke up there was fire everywhere.
“I came inside, picked up the fire extinguishers and I immediately started fire fighting. But after one minute, I could not see anything and I left.”
The attack, which took place on May 24, came from a fighter jet belonging to the Libyan Army led by General Khalifa Hiftar, aligned with the internationally-recognised Libyan government in Tobruk.
Eventually, the ship caught fire but it was put out and the tanker was towed to a military port in Misurata, where we boarded the vessel and spoke to the crew who were on board during the bombing.
Luckily for the Tiblisi-born shipmaster, he was not hurt badly.
“Yes I get some problem,” he said, gesturing to his abdomen, but added stoically that the problem was “not big”. Another crew member was also injured but he too escaped without serious injury.
The bombing could have turned into a disaster, not only for the 20 or so crew manning the vessel. The 170-metre oil tanker was carrying in excess of 30,000 tons of gasoil when it was hit, posing a potential environment catastrophe.
Colonel Ridda Eassa from the Misurata Coastguard, which responded to the distress call and towed the behemoth to shore, was very clear on this point: “This could have been the biggest environmental disaster, had the tanker spilt its cargo. There would have been nothing much to do.”
The Tobruk government admitted it had ordered the attack but said the tanker was carrying fighters and weapons destined for the militias aligned to the rival administration in Tripoli, a claim flatly denied by the ship master and all the crew.
It also claimed the crew ignored radio instructions given to the ship before the attack but the shipmaster insisted there was no such communication.
I don’t know what happened. When I woke up there was fire everywhere
“We don’t know why they bombed us and for what reason, we were just carrying gasoil,” he insisted, saying they had all necessary documentation from the port in Greece from where they left.
According to a crewman who was on the deck when the attack took place, and who did not wish to be named, the jet launched two missiles – one of them hit the bridge, while the other missed the deck.
But the pilot then made a second pass and fired the plane’s machine guns at a crew member who was trying to attach some hose pipes on the deck to try put out the fire.
The incident is significant because it is an example of the random potshots that the two sides are taking at each other while attempts at striking a peace process are ongoing.
It is the second tanker targeted by the internationally-recognised government – the other was a Turkish cargo ship, which was said to be carrying weapons destined to the ISIS-controlled town of Sirte. Western leaders have remained largely silent on both these incidents and yet their implications, especially that of the Anwaar Afriqya, could be far reaching.
The vessel was unloading diesel meant to fuel the Sirte power plant, which remains under the control of the Tripoli-aligned Misurata brigades.
That power plant takes care of the power supply of much of the west of Libya and is running on its last reserves.
“The only reason this vessel was bombed was to prevent us from fuelling the power station,” Colonel Ridda Eassa.
But if that power station does shut down, it will not only affect the government of Tripoli politically but also its capability to secure the west of the country, and keep life going for the millions of Libyans living there.
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