- By Robert ZeligerRobert Zeliger is News Editor of Foreign Policy.
How desperate is Muammar Qaddafi to raise cash? According to a new report, the Libyan leader is trying to unload the country’s fleet of 22 shipping vessels as economic sanctions and continued fighting take a toll on the regime.
According to the report from Petroleum Economist, which covers the energy industry, two companies based in Hong Kong and Singapore are in talks to buy the ships from the General National Maritime Transport — a company under the control of Qaddafi’s son, Hannibal. A source close to the discussions said the younger Qaddafi is "desperate to have access to money."
Can you blame him? The United States and other countries have frozen his father’s assets ($30 billion alone in the United States; and another $5.1 in Canada, Australia, and Britain). And there is evidence that Qaddafi’s regime is running low on fuel. Late last month, one of his largest oil pipelines was cut off by rebels — slashing his reserves by somewhere between a third and a half. The government has reportedly sunk to smuggling fuel into the country from Algeria and Tunisia to bypass sanctions. In Tripoli there are long lines to fill up tanks at gas stations, and more people are using bicycles to get around.
A U.S. intelligence official told the Daily Beast this week: "[Qaddafi’s] not going to run out of fuel tomorrow, but over the next month or two he’ll have to make tough decisions about how to continue."
Sanctions have taken a toll as well, with Qaddafi finding it difficult to do business around the world — even Turkey seized control of Libyan assets earlier this month.
Without cash or fuel, Qaddafi’s grip on power is showing signs of slipping — U.S. officials say there are indications of growing discord among his troops. At the same as he is looking for cash, he may also be eyeing the exit door — quietly negotiating with several countries on a deal that could see him step down from power, but avoid prosecution.