Eastern Libyan forces hand control of oil ports to east-based state firm NOC

 Eastern Libyan forces hand control of oil ports to east-based state firm NOC

By Ayman al-Warfalli

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar's forces have handed control of oil ports to a state oil firm based in the east, a military spokesman said on Monday.

If implemented, the move would create uncertainty for buyers of Libyan oil who normally go through state oil firm NOC in the capital Tripoli, the internationally-recognized entity.

There was no immediate comment from NOC.

In comments later confirmed to Reuters, Ahmed Mismari, spokesman of Haftar's Libya National Army (LNA), said on television that no tanker would be allowed to dock at eastern ports without permission from a NOC entity based in Benghazi.

Mismari said the move was as a result of the use of oil revenues to fund militias such as "Chadian mercenaries" and a lack of recognition from the chairman of NOC Tripoli, Mustafa Sanallah, for the "sacrifices" of LNA troops guarding the ports.

Armed forces allied to Ibrahim Jathran, a faction leader, briefly seized the Es Sider and Ras Lanuf oil ports this month, allegedly with the help of Chadian fighters, until the LNA expelled his troops last week.

Mismari said 184 LNA soldiers had been killed and dozens of others wounded in five attacks on the ports, which have been repeatedly fought over by rival factions.

When asked how oil exports would be sold in the future via the east he referred questions to NOC in Benghazi, which is not recognised abroad. NOC east was not immediately available.

Haftar's forces control most of eastern Libya which is home to a parallel government, central bank and NOC entity opposing the U.N. backed administration in the capital Tripoli.

The eastern government tried in 2015 to sell oil bypassing NOC Tripoli but did not find buyers and banks then willing to take the legal risk.

The fate of Es Sider and Ras Lanug, two of Libya's largest ports, is crucial to the fragile recovery of the country’s oil industry. Their closure has led to production losses of up to 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) from a total national output of little over one million bpd.

The Hariga port in Tobruk near the Egyptian border as well as the Brega and Zueitina terminals southwest of the main eastern city of Benghazi are also under Haftar's control.

Jathran in 2013 seized four eastern oil ports and tried exporting oil, by-passing Tripoli. In March 2014 U.S. Navy SEALS seized the sole tanker which had loaded crude from one of the occupied ports, after which Jathran abandoned control of them.

(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by David Evans and Alexander Smith)

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Updated Date: Jun 26, 2018 02:05:48 IST