Libyan Tanker Carrying Disputed Oil Returns After Fight Between Two Rival Libyan Governments

Libyan Tanker Carrying Disputed Oil Returns After Fight Between Two Rival Libyan Governments

A tanker carrying oil from eastern Libya became the focal point of a dispute between two rival governments in the war-torn North African country on Wednesday, after the United Nations blacklisted the shipment.

The vessel, named the Distya Ameya, will be allowed to return to Libya and unload its cargo at the Zawiya refinery in western Libya over the next few days. The fate of the vessel was confirmed Saturday by Mustafa Sanalla, chairman of the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation (NOC), in a statement emailed to Bloomberg. Perhaps confusingly, the deal was also confirmed from Nagi al-Maghrabi, chairman of the other National Oil Corporation set up in eastern Libya by the rival government there, according to Reuters.

Currently, at least two political bodies claim to be the legitimate government of Libya. The Tripoli-based NOC in western Libya is the only internationally-recognized seller of Libyan oil.

The saga of the Distya Ameya began when the ship left Libya’s Marsa el-Hariga port on Monday, carrying 650,000 barrels of crude. A failed attempt to export the oil led the tanker to be blacklisted by the U.N., as Bloomberg reports.

“The UN Security Council added the vessel to its sanctions list on Wednesday after the Mediterranean island of Malta refused to let it dock there. The NOC in Tripoli called the shipment illegal and informed Libya’s newly formed UN-backed unity government about the eastern government’s attempt to export oil independently.”

The Distya Ameya soon became symbolic of the larger struggle for legitimacy in a post-Gaddafi Libya, as the different governmental bodies of the divided country escalated the conflict over the rights to the transport’s oil wealth. The United Nations blacklisted the transport vessel on request from Ibrahim Dabbashi, the Libyan ambassador to the U.N.

Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa. Petroleum exports account for 95 percent of the country’s export earnings and over half its GDP. Until the civil war erupted in 2011, it was one of the largest oil exporters in the region, but the overthrow of Gaddafi resulted in the economy falling by roughly 62 percent, and it has yet to reach its pre-war levels, as reported by Bloomberg.

“Libya pumped about 1.6 million barrels a day of crude before a 2011 rebellion that ended Moammar Al Qaddafi’s 42-year rule. It’s now the smallest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, producing 330,000 barrels a day in March, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Since Qaddafi’s ouster and death, armed militias are also competing for control of the nation’s oil facilities.”

The North African country subsequently split into two rival regions and governments in 2014, one based in the old capital of Tripoli in the west and the other an internationally-recognized government in the east, which also has the loyalty of the army. The divide also extends to Libya’s state oil company, the NOC. Libyans are currently working with the U.N., the U.S., and European powers to try and establish a Government of National Accord. It is hoped that the resolution of the dispute will encourage a united government to form.

“This episode is a clear warning to all ship owners and trading companies that oil exports from Libya by any other entity than the National Oil Corporation of Libya are illegal and will be stopped,” Sanalla said to Bloomberg. “We need to agree that our oil should not be divided.”

Iraq and Libya are the two of the most vulnerable countries to instability as a result of falling oil prices due to ongoing conflicts in both countries and their respective regions. The eastern Libya oil company has vowed to continue shipping crude, and Magrabi told Reuters he would continue to fight for the eastern NOC’s right to export oil as a legal issue.

“In the last three years, we have lost close to $75 billion up to April 2016 due to blockades at our oil ports and oil pipelines by militias,” Sanalla said in the Bloomberg statement. “We can double our production – and national revenues – within a matter of months if the blockades are lifted. We have a plan to bring oil production back to pre-revolution levels.”

Sanalla did not immediately provide details of the plan to restore Libyan oil production and exports. Arrival and discharging of the oil at Zawiya has been delayed by bad weather, Mansur Abdulla, an official at the refinery, said in a phone call on Sunday.

[Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]