Libya's Eastern Government Tries to Export Oil

file photo

By Reuters 2016-04-23 19:27:42

Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) said the eastern government attempted to export 650,000 barrels of oil this week, breaching U.N. resolutions, but that workers at the Marsa el-Hariga terminal had refused to load the shipment.

"This had the potential to be a very ugly incident and I am pleased that it has been resolved peacefully without injury to anybody or loss of revenue or damage to the integrity of NOC or the country," Tripoli-based Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said in a statement released late on Friday.

Libya's eastern government is one of two rival administrations set up in 2014. Its efforts to sell oil through a parallel oil company have so far been unsuccessful, and have been fiercely resisted by the NOC in Tripoli, which has retained the backing of Western governments.

The NOC has said it will work with a U.N.-backed unity government that arrived in Tripoli last month to coordinate future oil sales.

Sanalla said he had informed the unity government's prime minister, Fayez Seraj, about the attempted sale, and that Seraj "took the necessary steps to stop the vessel from loading".

The NOC statement said the marketing manager of the parallel company had instructed eastern oil firm Agoco to load the shipment on April 21-23 for DSA Consultancy FZC, a company registered in the United Arab Emirates.

It said the shipment was intended for the Distya Ameya, an Indian-flagged vessel that remained at Marsa el-Hariga.

"Agoco employees and port officials understood this was a political attempt to divide the country, and I am very proud that they resisted the pressure to load this vessel," Sanalla said.

"We have been in communication with the master of the ship," he added. "We have informed him he is breaching U.N. resolutions and we have asked him to leave Libyan waters immediately. He has turned off his vessel's tracking system."

The parallel oil company says the NOC in Tripoli is illegitimate because it does not have the backing of Libya's eastern government, which was nominated by the internationally recognized parliament.

A spokesman for the parallel oil company, Mohamed al-Manfi, said the tanker's departure had been disrupted after the NOC had threatened port officials, but added that it was still in port and that "procedures for the tanker will be facilitated in the coming hours".

"If the corporation in Tripoli continues with such actions we will prevent any tanker from dealing with them," he said.

The U.N. Security Council last month said the unity government had the "primary responsibility" for preventing illicit oil sales, urging it to communicate any such attempts to the U.N. committee overseeing Libya-related sanctions.

The resolution also restated a call for member states to cease contact with any "parallel institutions".

Since the uprising that toppled autocrat Muammar Gaddafi five years ago, Libya's oil production has been slashed by rivalry between armed factions, attacks by Islamic State militants and labor disputes.

Output has fallen to less than a quarter of the 1.6 million barrels per day produced before the uprising.

Clashes Continue

Islamic State militants clashed with a Libyan force guarding oil ports near Brega terminal on Saturday, killing one guard and wounding four including Ibrahim Jathran, leader of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), a spokesman and medical sources said.

Islamic State has a base in the Libyan city of Sirte and has launched frequent attacks against oil facilities and ports, including major export terminals that are closed but controlled by Jathran's PFG brigades.

The PFG is one semi-official armed group that is backing a new unity government in Libya, where two rival administrations and their loose alliances of former rebels have been battling for control after the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Fighting between PFG and a convoy of Islamic State militants broke out 52 km south of the Brega oil terminal early on Saturday, PFG spokesman Ali al-Hassi and a medical source said.

Hassi said those wounded included Jathran, though he did not give details of how Jathran was injured.

He said the clashes had begun early on Saturday when guards spotted a convoy of about 100 vehicles, which they engaged in fighting for several hours. A number of Islamic State fighters had been killed and six vehicles seized.

The convoy had come from the eastern city of Derna, Hassi said. Islamic State fighters retreated from long-held positions around Derna this week.

Eastern military forces have entered al-Fatayeh, an area south of Derna from which Islamic State withdrew, but troops and civilians have suffered heavy casualties from mines and booby traps. More than 30 people have been killed and 11 wounded in such incidents over the past four days, military spokesman Abulkarim Sabra said on Saturday.

Islamic State's rise in Libya worries Western governments who are offering military and financial aid to the new unity government. But the new administration is still establishing itself in Tripoli and faces resistance from hardliners who reject its authority.