26 May 2020
The 20 private military contractors (PMCs) who were evacuated from war-torn Libya aboard two Malta-leased RHIBs and to Valletta, were aviation experts getting ready to operate assault helicopters, MaltaToday has learnt.
A full list of names in this newspaper’s possession clearly shows the men who arrived at the Valletta seaport on the Manta-1 rigid inflatable boat on 3 July were not oil and gas personnel, but PMCs with evident military experience.
The men were released from their arrest by police two days after the Maltese company that leased them the two RHIBs, Sovereign Charters, accepted to pay a €15,000 fine for immigration irregularities.
Now police investigators have learned that the men were specialist pilots engaged to operate six utility and support helicopters, to be armed for “assault and interdiction operations”; as well as seacraft from Malta with maritime interdiction capability to target the sea supply route for weapons from Turkey to the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
They included team leader Steven Hodge, a pilot; and pilots Travis Maki of geosciences firm Bridgeporth, Ryan Hogan, and Matthew Coughlin; Andrew Furness was identified as the helicopter loadmaster in the mission; other PMCs were South Africans Sean Baker, a medic, Hendrik Bam, Christian Du Preez, Andre Greyvenstein, Gilliam and Joseph Joubert, Rudi Koekemoer, Quintan Paul, Lucas Schutte and Abel Smit; Britons Michael Allen, David Button, coxswains Sean Callaghan Louw and Andrew Scott Ritchie, a former Royal Marines commando, and Australian Richard Parish.
The two RHIBs were leased by James Fenech’s Sovereign Charterers to UAE firm Opus Capital Asset FZE, whose managing director Amanda Perry is the company secretary of Lancaster 6 Limited, a Malta company – as well as managing director of UAE firm Lancaster6 DMCC and CEO of L-6 FZE.
Lancaster 6 is owned by former Australian fighter pilot and sometime Malta resident Christiaan Durrant, a former associate of Blackwater founder Erik Prince.
Fenech is now the subject of a criminal case in which he is charged with breaching EU sanctions on Libya. Durrant is the CEO of the BVI-registered company L6 Group Holdings, which ultimately owns Lancaster 6.
In information seen by MaltaToday, the UAE companies Lancaster 6 and L-6 FZE supplied ‘Project Opus’ with three SA341 Gazelle helicopters and three AS332 Super-Puma helicopters – procured from South Africa – as well as the two Malta RHIBs.
By Matthew Agius, MaltaToday, 26 May 2020
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