March 19, 2014 / 6:36 PM / in 4 years

U.N. authorizes nations to board rebel Libyan oil vessels

UNITED NATIONS, March 19 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday authorized nations to board ships suspected of carrying Libyan oil from rebel-held ports, days after U.S. naval forces seized an oil-laden tanker that sailed from a rebel zone in chaotic eastern Libya.

Libyan rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran and the central government are locked in a long-running standoff over a blockage of three oil ports Jathran’s men took over in the summer to press for eastern autonomy and a greater share of oil revenues.

The Tripoli government has given Jathran’s group, which has attempted to export oil on its own, two weeks to clear the ports or face a military offensive to end the port blockage, which has crippled the OPEC country’s finances.

The 15-nation U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a legally binding resolution that “condemns attempts to illicitly export crude oil from Libya” and authorizes U.N. member states to board ships with contraband Libyan oil and return the crude to the government.

It gives states that confront a suspected rebel oil tanker the right “to carry out ... inspections and direct the vessel to take appropriate actions to return the crude oil, with the consent of and in coordination with the Government of Libya, to Libya.”

It also gives the Security Council’s Libya sanctions committee the authority to blacklist vessels that attempt to transport Libyan oil against the wishes of the government. Blacklisted vessels would be temporarily barred from international commerce.

On Sunday, U.S. forces stormed a tanker that had made it as far as the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus after loading crude at the Es Sider port, one of three Jathran’s men have occupied, and eluding Libyan government forces offshore. The ship is on its way back to a government-controlled port. (Writing by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Mohammad Zargham)

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