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Libyan warship opens fire after tanker approaches mutinous port

08 January 2014

Libyan officials said the Maltese-flagged oil tanker Baku had entered Libyan waters on January 5 in an attempt to approach the port of Es Sider, between Tripoli and Benghazi, which has been controlled for months by armed protesters demanding more autonomy from the central government.

The tanker, suspected of attempting to illegally load crude at the port, was fired on by a naval vessel after it refused to stop, after which it fled back towards Malta.

The Libyan government has been threatening the use of force against those involved in illegal oil transhipments for a number of months, but this is thought to be the first time shots have been fired.

According to Reuters, a Defense Ministry spokesman told a news conference that the next time a tanker involved in oil piracy was intercepted, there would be “a stronger, more decisive response."

Protesters in the east of the country, who demand more regional autonomy and a greater share of oil wealth, took control the three key ports of Ras Lanuf, Es-Sider and Zuweitina six months ago, and have repeatedly threatened to sell crude independently. Previously, these ports exported 600,000 barrels a day of crude.

Two years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the oil standoff in eastern Libya is just one of the complex confrontations facing the weak central government, which has struggled to contain rival militias and former rebels who once fought the dictator.

In other news, Libya announced it had restarted production from the El Sharara field after another group of protesters ended a two-month blockade there. Field output should reach full capacity of 340,000 bpd shortly, a spokesman for state-run National Oil Corp (NOC) said on January 5.

Oilfield and port blockages have caused output to fall to 250,000 bpd from 1.4 million in July. Production from the southern oilfield could lift the country’s output to 600,000 barrels a day.
But at the same time, another group of protesters blocked a pipeline near Nalut carrying condensates from the 30,000 bpd Wafa field to the western port of Mellitah, reflecting the difficulties the central government is facing in imposing control and maintaining vital oil revenues.  

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