A cargo ship carrying £100m worth of Libyan currency destined for Colonel Gaddafi's regime was escorted into a British port and the money seized after officials warned the vessel's owners that the cash was the subject of United Nations sanctions.
The Sloman Provider, which had abandoned its journey to the Libyan capital Tripoli because of the ongoing violence, was accompanied into the Essex port of Harwich on Wednesday by a UK Border Agency vessel, and containers holding the bank notes were taken under guard to a secure location.
Sloman Neptun, the German shipping company which owns the cargo vessel, said yesterday that it had already decided to return to Britain, where the currency had been printed by a contractor, before it was contacted by the British authorities and asked to return with the consignment.
With its huge revenue from oil and gas exports reduced to a trickle by the rebellion, Gaddafi's regime is increasingly desperate for new currency to meet its costs. British officials last week conducted a delaying operation to thwart attempts by allies of the dictator to get hold of £900m of Libyan dinars, which had been produced by specialist currency printing company De La Rue at its plant in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.
It is understood that the £100m shipment had already left the UK before a control order banning the export of any Libyan currency came into force on Sunday.
A Home Office spokesman said: "A vessel which had been heading to Libya returned to the UK on Wednesday morning. A number of containers were offloaded from the boat and have been moved to a secure location."
A spokesman for Sloman Neptun said: "We did not want to go into Libya because of the troubles there and had already made the decision to return before we were contacted."