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Can the U.S. build a deepwater port in Libya’s Susah?

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Susah, Libya (Ports Europe) June 3, 2024 – U.S. investment in Libya’s long-delayed Mediterranean Sea deepwater commercial port of Susah, one of the deepest natural maritime points in North Africa, was discussed by military commander Saddam Khalifa and U.S. Guidry Group in Italy’s capital Rome. Guidry proposed a direct $2 billion investment in the port project.

One can speculate that the U.S. group port’s project is resurrected due to the aggressive attempts by Russia to take over Libya’s port of Tobruk.

Saddam Khalifa is the son of Field Marshal (general) Haftar who controls the Eastern region of Libya (with the capital Benghazi) where Susah is located. The current division of Libya is into a Western part (with the capital Tripoli), controlled by the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and an Eastern region, run by Haftar.

Haftar is a Libyan-American and the head of the Libyan National Army (LNA). He served in the Libyan army under the ousted in 2011 dictator Muammar Gaddafi. He also took part in the coup that brought Gaddafi to power in 1969, but later tried to topple Gaddafi. In Western Libya, he is often described as a former CIA agent.

Such a divide existed historically in this region between the provinces of Tripolitania in the west and Cyrenaica in the east before the foundation of the modern unified Libyan nation-state. If the impasse between the waring fractions continues, the same divide might well be the solution to Libya’s civil war. It will also enforce tribal autonomy in a country where clan loyalty is an important factor.

Guidry Group project

The Guidry Group was selected from nine international firms in 2015 to develop the multi-purpose port following a worldwide solicitation of proposals by Libya’s Council of Ministers.

In December 2021, Guidry Group signed a long-term strategic agreement with Greece’s Archirodon Construction for the design and construction of the Susah port project. The port would be the largest port infrastructure investment by a U.S. company in Libya’s history. Construction works were supposed to start in Q1 2023, but were delayed.

The port of Susah is 240 km east of Benghazi and serves as the main entry port for goods into Libya by sea. A natural self-dredging port with a sea depth of 18 m, the proposed newly developed Port of Susah will enable ships to offload their containers with ease. The new port will be constructed in four phases. It will focus on container handling, grain handling and other bulk cargoes, general cargo and as a logistics base.

It was supposed to be the first design-build-operate-transfer (DBOT), public-and-private partnership (PPP) infrastructure project in Libya. At the end of the long-term concession, the entire project is to be transferred to Libya’s government.

Russia in Libya

Ambitions to control Libya’s deepwater ports of Tobruk, Derna, Sirte and Ras Lanuf have been on the agenda of Moscow for years, together with its attempts to expand its military presence in eastern Libya, controlled by General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, who is fighting against Libya’s UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.

Can Russia add Libya’s Tobruk port to Tartus in Syria?

Russia beefs up military presence in Libya, Africa

Fears are growing in Italy that Russia will base nuclear submarines at a planned naval port in Eastern Libya, dramatically boosting Russian influence in the central Mediterranean Sea and placing submarine nuclear weapons on Europe’s southern flank, according to an article in the UK Times newspaper published in February.

A Russian naval base, most likely in the port of Tobruk, would be a headache for Europe and the U.S. It would be an ideal logistics and technical base for the Russian Navy on the doorstep of Southern Europe. Tobruk is a port on Libya’s Eastern Mediterranean coast, near the border with Egypt.

PortSEurope analysis (May 2020) – Russia uses Libya’s partition to gain control of its Mediterranean ports

Defence accord with Haftar

Since the U.S. departure from Libya in April 2019, Russia has been strengthening its military presence on the ground, including the use of its Wagner private army. In early 2019, rumours started to circulate that Russia had already established two small military bases in eastern Libya. Moscow also has nearly 1,000 military experts helping Haftar operate his Russia-supplied air defence systems.

The sailing distance from Tobruk to the port of Valletta in Malta, a European Union (EU) member state, is only 214 nautical miles. From Tobruk – should Russia gain a lasting foothold in Libya’s energy industry – Moscow could control the shipment of oil to southern Europe.

Russia is using Eastern Libya for troublemaking. This includes transporting illegal drugs like Captagon from Syria, covertly moving gold, evading Western sanctions, and trafficking migrants from the south of Africa, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Allegedly, a defence accord was discussed between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Haftar during their meeting in Moscow in September 2023. Russia’s deputy defence minister Yunus-bek Bamatgireyevich Yevkurov completed in February his fourth visit since August 2023 to general Haftar. It is believed that the main topic of his discussions with Haftar is the base in Tobruk.

The real issue for Russia is whether it can afford to support its military (or its private contractors) in Libya the way it did for years in Syria. Moscow’s coffers are emptying at an alarming rate due to the war in Ukraine. Russia is also under Western sanctions.

More PortSEurope news about Libya

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