Tripoli, March 10 (Reuters): Libyan government forces today seized a tanker that had loaded crude at a port under the control of rebels who plan to sell oil independently of the Tripoli government, state-owned National Oil Corp (NOC) said.
The North Korea-flagged shipped was being escorted to western Libya, NOC spokesman Mohammed El-Harari told Reuters, confirming Libyan media reports.
Lawmaker Abdelwahab al-Qaim told Reuters: “The ship has been seized by government forces. There are no damages to the ship.”
A rebel spokesman had earlier denied they had lost control of the ship.
In Tripoli, Libya’s parliament ordered a special force be sent within one week to “liberate” all rebel-held ports in the volatile east, officials said today, raising the stakes over a blockage that has cut off vital oil revenues.
The conflict over oil wealth is increasing fears that Libya may slide deeper into chaos or even splinter as the fragile government fails to rein in dozens of militias that helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but now defy state authority.
The rebels, who have seized three ports and partly control a fourth in the Opec member country, said they had dispatched forces to central Libya to deal with any government attack. The two sides were heading for a confrontation after a North Korean-flagged tanker finished loading crude worth $30 million at rebel-held Es Sider port.
Even without any major military action, the escalation kills any hope of restoring oil exports soon. A wave of protests at oilfields and ports has reduced output to a trickle, undermining state authority as oil is the main revenue source supporting the budget and basic food imports.