Libyan rebels warn of 'war' if navy attacks oil tanker

Sun Mar 9, 2014 4:22pm EDT
 

By Ulf Laessing and Ayman al-Warfalli

TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Armed protesters in eastern Libya traded threats with the government on Sunday in a tense stand-off over the unauthorized sale of oil from a rebel-held port.

A North Korean-flagged tanker, the Morning Glory, docked on Saturday at the port of Es Sider and local daily al-Wasat said it had loaded $36 million of crude oil. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has said the military will bomb the 37,000-tonne vessel if it tries to leave.

Officials said on Sunday that the navy and pro-government militias had dispatched boats to stop it from getting out. The rebels said any attack on the tanker would be "a declaration of war."

The escalating conflict over the country's oil wealth is a sign of mounting chaos in Libya, where the government has failed to rein in fighters who helped oust veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and who now defy state authority.

The protesters, who also include former soldiers and ex-oil guards led by a former anti-Gaddafi commander, Ibrahim Jathran, have seized three eastern ports in the OPEC member country.

The Defence Ministry issued orders to the chief of staff, air force and navy to deal with the tanker. "The order authorizes the use of force and puts the responsibility for any resulting damage on the ship owner," it said in a statement.

"Several navy boats have been dispatched. Now the tanker's movements are under complete control and nobody can move it," said Culture Minister Habib al-Amin, who acts as informal government spokesman. "The tanker will stay where it is."

"All efforts are being undertaken to stop and seize the tanker, if necessary by a (military) strike, if it does not follow orders," he said, adding that state prosecutors would treat the loading of the crude as smuggling.   Continued...

 
Staff at Libya's Waha Oil Company go on strike to protest against the sale of oil to a North Korean-flagged tanker at the Es Sider port, in Tripoli March 9, 2014. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny