Libya's Two Biggest Oil Ports Shut as Fighting Resumes
Loading at Libya's two busiest oil ports came to a halt on Thursday as two militia groups restarted a battle over the facilities' control. The renewed conflict near the Ras Lanuf and Es Sider terminals took about 240,000 barrels per day of oil export volume offline, according to Libya's National Oil Corporation, and the operating staff have been evacuated at both sites.
Units with the Benghazi Defense Brigades launched an assault on Libyan National Army (LNA) positions near Es Sider and Ras Lanuf on Thursday. The group includes some of the same militia leaders who periodically seized and blockaded the same oil terminals until March of last year, when they were ousted by the LNA, Reuters reports.
In a statement, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya condemned the attack on Ras Lanuf and Es Sider. "This dangerous escalation in Oil Crescent area puts Libya’s economy in jeopardy and risks igniting a widespread confrontation. Calm must be restored immediately. The unity of Libya must come first," the agency said in a statement.
Media and social media sources reported that one oil storage tank at Ras Lanuf was set ablaze in the fighting. Multiple tanks at both Ras Lanuf and Es Sider have been damaged by the on-and-off confilct in recent years.
The LNA is controlled by militia leader Khalifa Haftar, and it holds the majority of eastern Libya, including Benghazi and Tobruk. The UN-backed government of Libya controls Tripoli, Misrata and Sirte in the west, and a wide array of militias hold overlapping territories in areas beyond its reach.
The LNA is presently attempting to consolidate its hold in eastern Libya by capturing the city of Derna, the last port city in the area that is not under Haftar's control. An LNA spokesman alleged that the assault on Es Sider and Ras Lanuf was intended to relieve pressure on the defense of Derna.
Reports indicate that the Aframax tanker Minerva Lisa was due to pick up oil at Es Sider Thursday, but she has been forced to wait for improvements in the security situation before docking. As of late Thursday she was under way off Libya at a slow bell, according to her AIS signal.