Libya mili­tia at­tacks oil fa­cil­ity in east: mil­i­tary official

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION -

BENG­HAZI, Libya: The ma­jor Libyan oil ports of Ras Lanouf and Es Sidra were closed and evac­u­ated Thurs­day due to at­tacks by armed brigades op­posed to the pow­er­ful east­ern com­man­der Khal­ifa Haf­tar, caus­ing a pro­duc­tion loss of 240,000 bar­rels per day.

At least one stor­age tank at Ras Lanouf ter­mi­nal was set alight, an en­gi­neer told Reuters. Libya’s Na­tional Oil Cor­po­ra­tion de­clared force ma­jeure on load­ings from both ter­mi­nals, ac­cord­ing to a doc­u­ment seen by Reuters.

The clashes be­tween forces loyal to Haf­tar’s Libyan Na­tional Army and ri­val armed groups were tak­ing place south of Ras Lanouf, where the LNA was tar­get­ing its op­po­nents with airstrikes, lo­cal sources said.

The LNA took con­trol of Es Sidra and Ras Lanouf along with other oil ports in Libya’s oil cres­cent in 2016, al­low­ing them to re­open af­ter a long block­ade and sig­nif­i­cantly lifting Libya’s oil pro­duc­tion.

More than half the stor­age tanks at both ter­mi­nals were badly dam­aged in pre­vi­ous fight­ing and have yet to be re­paired, though there have been reg­u­lar load­ings from Es Sidra.

NOC said it had evac­u­ated staff from the two ter­mi­nals “for their safety.” The pro­duc­tion loss was around 240,000 bpd and the en­try of a tanker due at Es Sidra Thurs­day was post­poned, it said.

A mil­i­tary source said the three­p­ronged at­tack was launched by the Beng­hazi De­fense Brigades, a group that has pre­vi­ously tried to take the oil cres­cent and ad­vance on Beng­hazi, which has been fully con­trolled by Haf­tar since late last year.

Ibrahim Jathran, who headed an armed group that block­aded the ter­mi­nals for more than two years be­fore be­ing forced out by the LNA, ap­peared in a video posted on so­cial me­dia an­nounc­ing the start of a mil­i­tary cam­paign.

“We an­nounce the prepa­ra­tion of our ground forces and sup­port­ing forces in the oil re­gion, and our ob­jec­tive is to over­turn the in­jus­tice for our peo­ple,” he said, stand­ing in a cam­ou­flage jacket in an uniden­ti­fied desert area.

“The past two years have been cat­a­strophic for peo­ple in the oil cres­cent be­cause of the pres­ence of the sys­tem of in­jus­tice which is the other face of ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism.”

Re­peated pre­vi­ous at­tempts by the LNA’s op­po­nents to re­take the oil cres­cent have failed, and it is un­clear how much mil­i­tary and lo­cal, tribal sup­port Jathran or BDB forces cur­rently have.

How­ever the LNA, which is the dom­i­nant force in east­ern Libya and re­jects an in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized govern­ment in the cap­i­tal, Tripoli, has been stretched thin.

Since last month it has been wag­ing a cam­paign to take con­trol of Derna, the last city in the east to elude its con­trol. “Haf­tar’s forces are pre­oc­cu­pied with Derna, hence the tim­ing,” said Jalel Har­chaoui, an as­so­ciate and Libya ex­pert at North Africa Risk Con­sult­ing.

Thurs­day’s clashes were not af­fect­ing any oil­fields, the mil­i­tary source said. The LNA had at least five men killed and around six wounded, he said.

A lo­cal res­i­dent said he had heard the sound of heavy clashes and airstrikes at dawn and had seen a fire at the Ras Lanouf tank farm.

Crude ex­ports from Ras Lanouf stood at 110,000 bpd in May, while ex­ports from Es Sidra were around 300,000 bpd, ac­cord­ing to oil an­a­lyt­ics com­pany Vor­texa.

The Minerva Lisa oil tanker, which was due to ar­rive at Es Sidra to load a crude cargo Thurs­day, was ad­vised to stay out­side the port, a source fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said.

The tanker, char­tered by trader Pe­traco, was seen turn­ing away from the port Thurs­day morn­ing with­out load­ing, ac­cord­ing to Reuters ship track­ing. A sec­ond tanker, the Seas­cout, is ex­pected to ar­rive at the port on June 18.

Libya’s oil pro­duc­tion re­cov­ered last year to just over 1 mil­lion bpd and has been mostly sta­ble, though it re­mains vul­ner­a­ble to shut­downs at oil fa­cil­i­ties. –

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