At the end of January 2020, a video circulated on Twitter showing Turkish military equipment destined for Libya that was allegedly delivered on 28 January 2020.
On February 5th, 2020, the Italian authorities in Genoa seized and searched BANA vessel while it was calling there on its return from Libya. This event seems to corroborate the facts reported in January 2020. On the basis of this evidence, using only open sources we brought to light:
- Turkey violates embargo with a new arms shipment.
- Possible dissemination of the material to the pro-GNA factions.
- Presence of a boat from Turkey at Tripoli port.
- The use of a carrier of Lebanese nationality on several occasions.
- A possible link between the current owner of the boat and a Lebanese entity sanctioned for two years by the United States Treasury for its logistical support to a drug trafficker affiliated with Hezbollah.
An escorted delivery
Traking by satellite images and photos
Based on MarineTraffic data, BANA is a regularly sailing to Libya. Yet on January 28th no data mentions its arrival to Tripoli.
Two options can explain the data: either BANA never went to Tripoli on these dates, either BANA’s crew has switched off its AIS transponder, a sort of transmitter/receiver that gives the boat’s GPS position on a regular basis.
In this case Twitter can be a solid starting base to compare and compile the work others have done. This ship of interest was indeed already spotted by some ship spotters.
As we can trace back the boat’s journey using its AIS data released occasionally, it is possible to make them match with some satellite images showing Turkish military frigates escorting the boat.
On the occasion of the Berlin Conference President Macron mentions Turkish frigates escorting ships. Similar photos appear on social networks around January 28/29 with military frigates identified as G-class. While it is not possible to date the photos, they seem to corroborate @PutinisVirus’s work matching satellite images with AIS data.
On January 28th a boat with the same colour scheme and a significant size is docked at Tripoli Port according to satellite images from Sentinel Hub Explorer. This could be BANA.
Heavy equipment delivered in Tripoli ?
The video mentioned at the start of this article shows tanks, armoured vehicles and heavy artillery.
A reverse image search of these screen shots can let us know the video has not been published before its release end of January. However it is not possible at this stage to confirm this shipment was on BANA even though the date and mentions in Italian media seem to be relevant indications.
A ship already known from the Turcs and Libyans…
BANA (imo : 7920857) is a cargo boat used to transport vehicles…
When looking at matching the vessel’s IMO to old names we realize that the old name Sham 1 is already known in Libya for its military deliveries.
According to a UN Security Council report , the ship has been identified as a transporter of military equipment in January and April 2017. It is interesting to note that the vessel was used to deliver military vehicles in January 2017 to Tobrouk to General Hafter forces, which Turkey does not support.
Following the Lebanese trail
According to MarineTraffic BANA belongs to a company called Med Wave Shipping S.A.
According to world-ships which gives addresses of shipping companies, we find again our target company located in Jordan without being able to identify who is in control neither if the company is still active.
With the Lebanese flag as a hint, a second look on Equasis database gives us a new address in Lebanon.
Med Wave Shipping company is registered on a paid wall database dedicated to Lebanese corporates (2$ per report). Its principal activity is the acquisition of ships with the specific mention of Sham 1, BANA’s old name. The company seems to be a special purpose vehicle set up to buy the boat. No information are availabe on the company’s directors and managers, neither on the local law firm that structured the transaction. Without doubt this entity is part of a larger corporate network whose ultimate beneficiary cannot be identified at this stage using open source information.
An history under sanctions for logistic support to an Hezbollah affiliated group
Looking closer at the address displayed in Equasis ( Ground Floor, Orient Queen Homes Building, John Kennedy Street, Ras Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon ), we can deduce that « Orient Queen Homes » is actually a hotel and the company is located on the ground floor.
On the map another company is located at the same place: Abou Merhi Cruises which organizes cruises on the Orient Queen boat according to its website.
By looking at BANA ownership history we can notice that Abou Merhi Ship Management SAL and AML Ship Management Gmbh were its former owners based in Lebanon and Germany.
AML Ship Management Gmbh ou African Mediterranean Lines seems to have a real experience on the Libyan maritime transport route as one of his main manager demonstrates in promoting some of the boats the company send there.
This vessel is already followed by some ship spotters on Twitter on January 16th, 2020
A quick look on search engines shows the two companies belong to Abou Mehri Group. This holding with investments in maritime shipping, tourism, real estate is managed by Merhi Ali Abou Merhi, a Lebanese business man.
In October 2015 a business man, some of his collaborators and companies are listed on OFAC sanction list for its links with the Joumaa network affiliated with Hezbollah for its role in drug trafficking and money laundering.
« Orient Queen Homes » and the old BANA owners – the transport maritime entities – as well as the boat under its old name « City of Misurata » are also under sanctions. The boat starts being transferred to Med Wave Shipping entity in December 2015.
The vessel becomes Sham 1 in February 2016. Have they changed the ship’s name and transferred its property title in a new legal entity to circumvent commercial sanctions? This is one hypothesis but this lead from Equasis is not enough to demonstrate it and it is not possible to go further using open sources at this stage.
While the corporate and its CEO have been de-listed from OFAC in 2017, the link between Med Wave Shipping and Abou Merhi Group remains a real question as well as its support role in trafficking and sanction circumventing.