March 12, 2015 / 6:14 PM / 3 years ago

Rival Libyan parliament says eastern port force tried selling oil on its own

SKHIRAT, Morocco/BENGHAZI (Reuters) - Libya’s rival parliament has accused forces loyal to the country’s official government of trying to arrange a crude oil sale from outside the Tripoli-based state oil firm NOC, a deputy speaker of the parliament said on Thursday.

Control of vital oil revenues lies at the heart of a power struggle between two governments and parliaments fighting for control four years after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.

Deputy Speaker Saleh al-Makhzoum said his Tripoli-based parliament would complain to the U.N. special envoy for Libya about what he called an attempted crude lifting by a tanker trying to dock at Es Sider port.

Ali al-Hassi, spokesman for a security force controlling Es Sider, denied it had tried to bypass Tripoli in selling oil. “Es Sider port and the entire oil crescent area has been declared a military zone and is under force majeure,” he said.

Hassi’s force is loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government and parliament based in eastern Libya since an armed group seized Tripoli in August, reinstating the previous assembly and installing a rival administration.

Makhzoum said a tanker had tried to lift crude at Es Sider, a port in the oil crescent area, home to the country’s biggest ports in eastern Libya.

“It is against the law, and we know that tanker is called Vito and belongs to an Emirati company,” Makhzoum told Reuters in Morocco.

Ship tracking data showed the Panama-flagged tanker was currently sailing past Crete, Greece.

National Oil Corp (NOC), the state oil firm, had earlier said unknown traders had offered Libyan crude outside the official channels. It did not elaborate.

A year ago, the same security force in Es Sider had tried selling crude on its own by loading oil on tankers, leading to a major stand-off with the central government in Tripoli. U.S. navy special forces eventually stormed the tanker off Cyprus and returned the cargo to Tripoli.

The oil force led by Ibrahim Jathran was then a rebel group campaigning for eastern autonomy. Now he’s become a partner of the recognized government, opposing Tripoli.

Loyalties and alliances often change in the North African country where both sides have appointed heads for the energy sector.

The United Nations had planned to host a new round of talks in Morocco on Thursday but only the Tripoli-based delegation was seen there until late at night. The eastern parliament had said it would ask to postpone talks for one week to allow time to study a proposal for forming a national government.

Reporting by Aziz Yaakoubi, Ayman al-Warfalli, Ulf Laessing, Ahmed Elumami, Feras Bosalum, David Sheppard and Jonatahn Saul; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Susan Thomas

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