Tripoli, March 17 (Reuters): American special forces have seized a tanker that fled with a cargo of oil from a Libyan port, the US department of defence said on Monday, halting an attempt by rebels to sell petroleum on the global market.
Libyan rebels demanding a greater share of oil wealth managed to load crude onto the ship, which escaped Libya’s navy, embarrassing the government and prompting parliament to sack the prime minister.
US Navy SEALs boarded the Morning Glory tanker in international waters off Cyprus on Sunday night and took control of the vessel, which the Pentagon said was held by three armed Libyans.
The tanker’s seizure by US forces is likely to prevent any more attempted oil sales by the rebels, who in August seized three export terminals accounting previously for 700,000 barrels a day of exports.
No one was hurt in the tanker raid, which was approved by US President Barack Obama and requested by the Libyan and Cypriot governments, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.
“The Morning Glory is carrying a cargo of oil owned by the Libyan government National Oil Company. The ship and its cargo were illicitly obtained” from the Libyan port of Es Sider, his statement said.
The standoff over control of Opec member Libya’s oil is one facet of wider turmoil that has engulfed the vast North African country since the civil war that led to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi nearly three years ago.
It was the second time in six months that US forces have become involved in Libya. A commando team snatched a suspected al Qaida suspect off the street as he returned home from prayers in the capital Tripoli in September.
The Cypriot ministry of foreign affairs said the vessel was now heading west in the Mediterranean with a US military escort. It was parked 18 miles (29km) southwest of Cyprus when the operation occurred around midnight Cyprus time.
The Pentagon statement said the vessel would be returned to a Libyan port.
There was no immediate reaction from the federalist rebels, based in eastern Libya.