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 the internationally recognized state oil firm NOC based in the capital Tripoli, in the western part of the country.
There was no immediate comment from NOC. Eastern factions have repeatedly tried and failed to sell oil in the past.
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 an NOC entity based in the main eastern city, Benghazi.
Mismari said the move was to prevent oil revenues being used to fund militias such as “Chadian mercenaries”, and a lack of recognition from the chairman of NOC Tripoli, Mustafa Sanalla, 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 until the LNA expelled his troops last week. The LNA says fighters from Chad helped Jathran.
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 recognized abroad. NOC east was not immediately available.
Haftar’s forces control most of eastern Libya which is home to a largely powerless parallel government, central bank and NOC entity opposing the U.N. backed administration in the capital Tripoli. Eastern factions have long accused the central bank in Tripoli of misspending oil revenues and allocating insufficient funds to the east.
A spokesman for the eastern government said the head of the eastern government and central bank had met on Monday to discuss how to start managing oil revenues.
The eastern government tried in 2015 to sell oil bypassing NOC Tripoli but did not find buyers, banks and insurers who were willing to take the legal risk. Western powers and U.N. Security Council resolutions have protected NOC Tripoli as the sole body that can market and sell Libyan oil.
The fate of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, 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 a little over one million bpd.
The Hariga port in Tobruk near the Egyptian border as well as the Brega and Zueitina terminals southwest 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 and Aidan Lewis; Editing by David Evans, Alexander Smith and Peter Graff)