BENGHAZI, Libya – The Libyan army said it had taken control Wednesday, April 9, of two oil ports under a weekend deal to end a crippling nine-month blockade by rebels seeking autonomy in the country’s east.
Colonel Ali al-Shikhi, spokesman for the army general staff, said men under its command had taken control of Al-Hariga and Zueitina ports.
The rebels’ seizure of four eastern oil terminals last July in pursuit of their campaign for restored autonomy for the eastern Cyrenaica region slashed exports from 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) to just 250,000 bpd.
Tripoli says the blockade has cost the country more than $14 billion (10.1 billion euros) in lost revenues.
A port official said exports could resume from Al-Hariga as early as Sunday if the National Oil Co (NOC) gives the necessary approvals, restoring a much-needed revenue stream for the weak central government following the 2011 overthrow of Moammar Kadhafi.
Under the deal reached on Sunday, the rebels were to hand over the two terminals this week and cede the other two within two to four weeks, provided negotiations are successfully concluded.
The two ports have a combined export capacity of 210,000 bpd.
“Ibrahim Jodhran’s group undertook not to re-enter the port of Al-Hariga or resume its blockade,” Shikhi said, referring to the rebel leader.
“Operations at the port should resume at the start of next week (Sunday), provided force majeure is lifted,” Al-Hariga port official Abdelwahab Salem Omran said.
The NOC declared force majeure at the 4 terminals last August, effectively bringing all authorized oil shipments to a halt.
The lifting of the rebel blockade of Ras Lanouf and Al-Sidra would be an even bigger prize. Together they have a capacity of 550,000 bpd.
Reopen all oil ports
Western governments issued a joint statement Monday calling for a rapid reopening of the oil terminals.
They called for “the prompt establishment of a transparent and inclusive national dialogue that includes particular focus on the fundamental national and regional questions involving Libya’s resources.”
Details of Sunday’s agreement have been kept under wraps but the rebels have been demanding a referendum on restoring the autonomy that the Cyrenaica region enjoyed for the first 12 years after Libyan independence in 1951.
They have also sought full back-pay for their men, who were employed as security guards at the oil terminals before launching their blockade.
The eastern terminals were a key battleground in the NATO-backed uprising that saw Kadhafi toppled and killed in 2011.
A Western diplomat said the rebels were “trying to find a way out of the crisis they created” with an abortive oil export bid on a rogue tanker last month.
The US Navy intercepted the tanker and returned it to Libya, and the UN Security Council passed a resolution banning all unauthorized Libyan oil exports. – Rappler.com