On the Greek Ferry Housing Libya's Government

The country's legislature has fled Tripoli and moved into a ship. It's not the first time boats from Greece have come to the rescue.

The Elyros, docked in the port of Piraeus in Athens, Greece (Wikimedia)

As a civil war between Islamists and nationalists rages on in Libya, international players are once again shaping the country’s future. The UN is calling for a ceasefire. France is using increasingly aggressive language to urge international action, with the French defense minister recently calling the country a “hub for terrorist groups.” Libya’s government has accused Sudan of providing arms to Islamist militias, who have in turn been the target of airstrikes by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Libya’s own elected parliament, meanwhile, is literally at sea. As The Guardian’s Chris Stephen reported this week, the country’s 200-seat legislature has shrunk, partly due to boycotts, and the roughly 115 members that continue to meet have fled the capital, Tripoli, and taken up residence on a 17,000-ton Greek ferry called Elyros, which is moored outside the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk.

The arrangement is part of an agreement the government reached with the Greek shipping company Anek Lines, which owns the Elyros, days before the Islamist coalition Libya Dawn captured Tripoli. Lacking a formal parliamentary building in Tobruk, which is still controlled by forces allied with the government, the nomadic legislature improvised its headquarters. On land, the officials hold sessions in the Dar Essalem hotel. They go home to the Elyros’s elegant interior.

The Elyros is not exactly a cruise ship—it normally ferries cars between Athens, Italy, and the Greek island of Crete—but Anek Lines advertises it as a “luxury, state-of-the-art ship” with “top quality services” to meet “the demands of today’s passengers.”

Greece, which is just north of Libya across the Mediterranean Sea, has played a role in Libya’s crises before. During the 2011 uprising that led to the overthrow of Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi, an Anek Lines ferry took 1,000 stranded Vietnamese workers back home. Other Greek commercial ferry lines transported Brazilian, Chinese, and Venezuelan nationals out of Libya that same year. The crisis ultimately provided Greek commercial ferry operators with an “evacuation boost” of up to $25 million in profits, helping buoy the industry after a year of record losses. The windfall was short-lived, however. Anek Lines has reported a loss of $28.8 million in the first half of this year.

Including the Libyan parliamentarians, their family members, and the ship’s crew, the Elyros now has an estimated population of 400 residents. As Stephen reports in The Guardian:

The mood on board is sombre. An escalator, switched on only for important guests, heads up above the car deck to restaurants and bars with bright lights and almost no people. Children of the parliamentarians who have fled with them play in the corridors while clusters of officials and women in shawls cluster around the tables, where they are served Pepsi and orange juice by the bemused crew in immaculate white uniforms.

This is how Libya's elected, post-revolution leaders are now biding their time. Stephen writes that these officials still control Libya’s oil fields, so they perhaps can afford to wait in the ship’s relative safety while they build up their army. For now, Anek Lines is keeping the Libyan government afloat.