Defiant east Libya ships first oil cargo

A government based in eastern Libya has shipped its first cargo of crude in defiance of authorities in the capital Tripoli, a bold move that could deepen the divisions that have brought chaos since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

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The Tripoli authorities asked the UN Security Council on Tuesday to blacklist the India-flagged tanker Distya Ameya, which left the eastern Libyan port of Hariga overnight carrying oil they said could not be lawfully sold.

The eastern government has set up its own National Oil Corporation (NOC) to act in parallel to the Tripoli-based NOC that is recognised internationally as the only legitimate seller of Libyan oil.

The tanker departed Hariga carrying 650,000 barrels of crude late on Monday bound for Malta, said Mohamed al-Manfi, a spokesman for the eastern NOC.

Maltese TV reported the ship was in international waters near Malta. The island’s Port Directorate said the tanker was not authorised to dock there and requests would be refused.

The ship last reported its position through the publicly available AIS tracking system earlier on Tuesday as still in Libyan waters.

Libya’s economy depends almost exclusively on oil export revenue and the fight over who controls those funds has driven chronic instability and civil war since long-serving autocrat Gaddafi was toppled and killed by foreign-backed rebels in 2011.

Parallel parliaments and governments have operated in Tripoli and the east since 2014. Much of the country is in the hands of dozens of armed groups loyal to one or other government, while small areas are controlled by Islamic State group fighters.

Political division, labour disputes and security threats have reduced Libya’s oil output to less than a quarter of the 1.6 million barrels per day produced before the uprising.

A UN-backed unity government, which arrived in the capital last month, includes figures from across Libya’s divides but has not yet been fully accepted by either of the two loose alliances fighting for power since 2014.

It was not immediately clear how the eastern NOC could conduct a sale given the international opposition.

One possibility might be to attempt a ship-to-ship transfer in international waters.