Libya’s oil ports Hariga and Zueitina appear to be working normally after eastern-based forces handed control of the terminals to a parallel National Oil Corporation (NOC) in Benghazi, sources said.
Libya, politically divided since 2011, has two rival versions of the NOC, the internationally recognised NOC based Tripoli in the west and an alternative NOC in Benghazi.
The ports are vital to controlling Libya’s crude exports, the North African nation’s main source of revenue, although shifting control of the terminals creates uncertainty for international buyers of Libyan oil, deterring business.
The announcement transferring operations of eastern ports to NOC in Benghazi follows military action by the eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Khalifa Haftar to retake Ras Lanuf and Es Sider ports, also in the east and remain closed.
Those closures disrupted oil flows amounting to about 450,000 barrels per day (bpd), which almost cut in half Libya’s total output that was running at about a million bpd earlier this year.
Sources contacted by Reuters indicated Hariga and Zueitina port operations were continuing.
A shipping source said the tanker Atlantic Explorer left Hariga fully loaded on Tuesday, while an oil source said the vessel was chartered by the NOC in Tripoli.
In Zueitina, an oil official said the situation was normal, with two tankers at the terminal, the first loading 600,000 barrels of oil and the second due to load a million barrels.
Haftar earlier signed an order handing all ports “liberated” by eastern forces to the Benghazi NOC, aligned to the eastern government which rejects the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
Alongside Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, a spokesman for the eastern LNA forces said the order included Zueitina and Hariga.
Combined exports from five ports now under eastern control – Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Hariga, Zueitina and Brega – were about 520,000 barrels per day on June 1-25, compared with 780,000 bpd for May, according to oil analytics firm Vortexa.
Eastern based factions repeatedly tried and failed to export oil independently, unable to circumvent UN Security Council sanctions recognising the Tripoli NOC as the sole legitimate producer and seller of Libya’s oil.
The Tripoli government said the decision by the eastern based LNA forces would deepen divisions in Libya, split between the loose military and political factions in the two sides of the country since 2014.
“Such actions increase tension and anger and do not serve the path of consensus or lead in any way towards reconciliation, but establish disunity and engrain division,” the GNA said.
In its statement, the GNA appealed to the UN Security Council and sanctions committee to “prevent all illegal sales operations due to these actions”.
The internationally recognised NOC in Tripoli condemned the LNA’s move as illegal, saying it would use “all options available” to legally pursue any companies trying to buy oil from parallel institutions.
Analysts say Haftar’s decision to shift control of the ports could be aimed at leveraging more public money from Tripoli, where oil revenues are processed by a central bank governor who eastern factions have tried to dislodge.
GNA Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeg told reporters in Tripoli the NOC should be protected from politics.
“This NOC does not deal with funds … it manages the oil sector and operates production and it succeeded in raising production to an excellent level and standard,” he said.