Prosecutors in Bulgaria on Friday opened an investigation into the alleged illegal sale of a Libyan oil tanker, after Libya ordered the seizure of Bulgarian ships entering its ports in retaliation, reported AFP.

“The regional prosecution in Burgas opened a probe against a private debt collection agent for (…) exceeding his authority in a case concerning the unlawful change of ownership of a tanker,” the prosecution said in a statement.

The probe followed a protest by lawyers acting for the state-owned Libyan General National Maritime Transport Company, which owns the “Badr” vessel, the statement added.

The 61,000-ton crude oil tanker was originally detained by Bulgarian maritime authorities in the Black Sea port of Burgas in November 2017 after a Bulgarian company claimed it as collateral for a $9.2-million (7.9 million-euro) Libyan state company debt dating back to 1989.

Libya says the claims are based on forged papers.

The company claiming the debt had asked for the tanker to be sold, but the sale was stopped by the regional court in Burgas.

Higher-level courts have also issued judgements ordering the vessel’s release.

However, a private debt collection agent disregarded the courts and organised a public sale of the tanker in March 2018, where it was acquired by the same company that had sought it as compensation.

The case sparked an angry reaction from Libya when in December the ship’s Libyan captain and 20 other Indian crew members were forced out by the new owner.

The tanker then left Bulgaria’s territorial waters with a new crew, the name Bdin, and under a Panamanian flag.

Bulgaria’s Transport Minister Rosen Zhelyazkov has played down the case as “a private legal matter”, but earlier this week Bulgarian media published an order from the Libyan Maritime Administration to seize all Bulgarian ships entering Libyan ports as a reciprocal measure for what it called “an act of piracy”.

Source