Oil exports from Libya's western Mellitah port have resumed after protests ended, allowing a large oilfield to ramp up production and providing some respite from a crisis that has crippled its economy.
Most of Libya's oil facilities have been closed since the end of July as disparate groups demanding political rights and benefits have put pressure on the government, helping support the price of crude oil on global markets.
In the latest bout of unrest, members of the Amazigh minority, also known as Berbers, seized the Mellitah complex, operated by Italy's Eni and state-owned National Oil Corp. (NOC), and halted gas and oil exports.
A spokesman for NOC said on Tuesday the protesters had left Mellitah three days ago and that loadings had resumed but that there was no breakthrough at other facilities.
"The situation there (Mellitah) is now normal, and we are operating as normal," spokesman Mohammed al-Harari said.
"There have been no protesters in the port since Saturday, but I cannot guarantee that they will not return. As long as there are no protesters in the complex and we can operate safely, we will."
Shipping sources and Reuters AIS Live ship tracking data showed that the LR2 Poseidon had loaded crude from Mellitah on Monday. Another tanker, the Stealth Haralambos, was loading at the terminal on Tuesday, trading sources and tracking showed.
If that tanker loads successfully, then El Feel, the second-largest oilfield in the west of Libya, will resume producing the volumes it was pumping before the latest stoppage, Harari said.
"Starting tomorrow, we expect it to be getting back over 80,000 barrels per day (bpd)," he said.
BLOW TO ECONOMY, BUDGET
Libya cut output at El Feel last week as storage tanks at Mellitah reached capacity because exports were blocked. The field has a capacity of 130,000 bpd but has not been producing at its full capacity since before the latest outage.
Harari was not able to say whether a lasting agreement had been reached with the protesters at Mellitah. NOC is not leading the negotiations to end the various blockades.
The Amazigh are demanding that their language rights be guaranteed by the constitution.
Disruptions to oil exports have dealt a heavy blow to the Libyan economy. The International Monetary Fund has estimated the economy would shrink by 5.1 percent in 2013.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who is facing blockades at oil facilities around the country and opposition from Islamists in parliament, has warned that the government will struggle to cover its budget unless the oil industry is allowed to operate.
The southern El Sharara field, which supplies crude for export at Zawiya terminal and for the 120,000 bpd Zawiya refinery, remained blocked on Tuesday, Harari said.
There were no crude oil tankers left waiting at Zawiya, although some oil product tankers remained, AIS Live tracking showed.
The Zawiya protesters are former rebels who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi two years ago and now demand better benefits and medical treatment, oil officials have said.
The government's efforts to resolve the oil blockades are complicated by the fact that the protesters at different ports and fields have a range of demands.
Libya said last month it planned to increase oil workers' pay by 67 percent and build two oil refineries in the east and the south to address grievances, which have shut much of its 1.25 million bpd exports for several months.
Copyright Reuters 2013.