Salman Akhtar

The capture of the Libyan tanker Queen Majeda in Albanian waters has exposed a fuel smuggling operation worth $5 billion annually. A significant portion of the smuggled fuel, mainly sourced from Russia, is being diverted to European countries that have banned Russian imports. This incident has raised numerous questions regarding the scale of fuel smuggling, the parties involved, and the flow of funds.

Under the cover of darkness, the Queen Majeda, a Libyan tanker, silently slipped from the port of Benghazi, Libya, in September 2022. Its hull carried a valuable cargo of marine gas oil worth over $2 million. The destination: Porto Romano, Albania. The journey, however, was abruptly cut short when the Albanian coast guard, suspecting foul play, intercepted the vessel.

The Unraveling of a Smuggling Saga

The Queen Majeda’s journey has laid bare an extensive smuggling operation, a shadowy network that funnels an estimated $5 billion worth of fuel annually. The incident opened a Pandora’s box, revealing forged documents, a Libyan captain in handcuffs, and a suspicious Albanian energy company with a history of dealings with the tanker.

Captain Zuhair Alkuafi, along with a few crew members, was arrested on smuggling charges. The documents certifying the Libyan origin of the fuel were suspected to be forged. While the intended recipient of the cargo, Kastrati Group SH.A., an Albanian energy company, denied having a purchase contract for the detained shipment, it couldn’t refute previous associations with the Queen Majeda. Nuri Eldawadi, the ship’s owner, remained conspicuously silent, failing to respond to inquiries.

Russian Fuel’s Illicit Journey

A subsequent investigation by Bloomberg News revealed a staggering fact: up to 40% of fuel imported into Libya under a government subsidy program is being illicitly traded. The source of this diverted fuel? Russia. A significant portion of it was destined for European countries that have banned Russian imports.

The capture of the Queen Majeda in Albanian waters has shone a spotlight on the substantial trade in smuggled fuel, raising critical questions about the extent of this clandestine operation, the key players involved, and the intricate web of financial transactions that sustain it.

The Unanswered Questions

While the capture of the Queen Majeda is a significant breakthrough, it is merely the tip of the iceberg in an operation that spans continents and involves billions of dollars. The case has raised more questions than it has answered: How widespread is this illicit fuel trade? Who are the major players? And, perhaps most importantly, where are the proceeds going?

As the international community grapples with the implications of this incident, it is clear that the stakes are high. The Queen Majeda’s tale is a stark reminder of the broader geopolitical implications of fuel smuggling, and the urgent need for greater transparency and stricter regulations in the global energy market.


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