The Libyan Navy moved yesterday to stop a North Korean ship from leaving a rebel-held port loaded with oil, as the US accused the separatists of theft and warned any buyers could face sanctions.
Navy ships were deployed to block the Morning Glory from leaving port, after Libyan Minister of Culture Amin al-Habib on Sunday said the tanker would be “turned into a pile of metal” if it tried to set sail with its cargo.
The Libyan Ministry of Defense has also deployed the air force to “deal with the tanker,” the official Lana news agency reported.
The US said it was “deeply concerned” over the loading of the “illicitly obtained” oil.
“This action is counter to law and amounts to theft from the Libyan people,” US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“The oil belongs to the Libyan National Oil Company and its joint venture partners,” Psaki said, adding that the partners include US companies.
“Any oil sales without authorisation from these parties places purchasers at risk of exposure to civil liability, penalties and other possible sanctions in multiple jurisdictions,” she added.
Rebels at the al-Sidra oil terminal in eastern Libya spent the weekend loading oil onto the tanker, ignoring Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s threats to bomb the ship and Libyan Minister of Oil Omar Shakmak’s accusation of “piracy.”
The ship can carry up to 350,000 barrels of crude.
The separatists are former rebels who have turned against Libya’s interim authorities after toppling late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in the north African country’s 2011 uprising.
They have been blockading oil terminals in eastern Libya that they had been entrusted with guarding, demanding autonomy and a share in lucrative oil revenues.
Zeidan told a news conference on Saturday that the Libyan attorney general had given the order for the ship to be stopped.
“All parties must respect Libyan sovereignty. If the ship does not comply, it will be bombed,” he said.
Zeidan said the Libyan authorities had told the vessel’s captain to leave Libya’s waters, but added that armed gunmen on board were preventing him from setting sail.
A spokesman for the self-proclaimed government of Cyrenaica in the east, the separatists’ political wing, said on Saturday that oil exports from al-Sidra had begun.