Libyan oil crisis deepens as east and west fight over crude exports

Libya’s Channel with Reuters

Libya’s eastern government prevented a tanker sent by the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation from docking in the eastern port of Marsa al-Hariga on Wednesday, the latest in an escalating battle for power that has taken a new turn since a unity government arrived in the capital.

The Seachance had been due to load 600,000 barrels of oil for the NOC in Tripoli, which is supported by the UN-backed Government of National Accord and the international community. It left Hariga port in the eastern city of Tobruk of its own accord after failing to load any of its planned crude cargo destined for trading giant Glencore, a port official said.

Reuters ship tracking showed the tanker was still waiting outside the port. The Seachance was originally expected to load on April 26-28. It came just days after the Tripoli NOC successfully appealed to the UN Security Council to blacklist a tanker carrying crude the eastern government was trying to sell.

The interim government based in Bayda was once recognized by the international community and had tried to set up its own NOC in the east, following an armed takeover of the capital by Libya Dawn in 2014, which Bayda feared would control Libya’s dwindling oil revenues.

But since Dawn-affiliated authorities disappeared from the capital and the GNA took over, the Bayda authorities have been widely considered defunct.

Bayda’s attempt to sell oil via its Benghazi-based authority last week was scuppered by the rival authorities in the west who appealed to the UN, saying it was not legal.

The India-flagged tanker Distya Ameya, which left on 25 April, was prevented from sailing to Malta with 650,000 barrels that had been sold DSA Consultancy FZC, a company registered in Sharjah, UAE. It was forced to return to Zawiya in the west of the country, and its oil unloaded.

In retaliation, on Wednesday, the parallel Benghazi-based NOC ordered port workers not to load the Seachance.

The stand off is part of an escalating battle between the authorities in the east who have refused to cede power to the unity government in Tripoli.

A Tripoli oil official warned the country’s oil output could fall by 120,000 barrels-per-day if the eastern authorities continued to block tankers loading for Tripoli from Hariga. Libya’s oil output is already less than a quarter the 1.6 million barrels a day the country exported before the 2011 uprising.

Exports from the port are usually divided between allocations to Glencore, as part of an oil export deal the trader struck with the rival Tripoli NOC last year, and cargoes to the 120,000 bpd Zawiya refinery.

On Wednesday the head of the Benghazi NOC, Nagi al-Maghrabi, said there was no plan by the company’s board to close Hariga. He suggested the refusal to load the Seachance was made for bureaucratic reasons.

There is “no plan to shut down the port, the revenue is for all Libyans,” Maghrabi told Reuters.

“We just ask to have for the document for any shipment in advance … otherwise it will not be allowed to load. We still respect all contracts.”

Maghrabi told Libya Channel the blacklisting of the interim government’s tanker was “unjust” and “breached Libya’s sovereignty”. He said Libya’s representative to the UN Ibrahim Dabbashi had not consulted the eastern authorities before lodging the complaint with the Security Council.

“We did not call Dabbashi and he did not call us, because the deal was legal and not tainted by irregularities. We communicated with Western ambassadors and they confirmed that they do not object to the oil deal,” he said.

“It has damaged the country’s international reputation.”

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