Tanker sent by Libya's NOC starts to load oil from threatened port

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - A tanker sent by Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) began to load oil on Thursday at the country’s eastern Zueitina port, after rival forces stationed in the area agreed to let it dock and take the oil to safety, a port official said.

A general view of the Zueitina oil terminal in Zueitina, west of Benghazi April 7, 2014. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

The NOC expressed concern earlier this month after reports of possible clashes between the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), one of Libya’s many armed brigades, and forces loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, fearing these might damage the port infrastructure.

The PFG has signed a deal with the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli to end its blockade of Zueitina and two other ports, but eastern forces loyal to a separate government in eastern Libya have threatened to block port loadings and exports.

Those forces recently mobilized near Zueitina and PFG positions, though there have been no reports of violence.

The port official stressed that the port was still closed, but the tanker had started emptying storage tanks and reservoirs.

The Zueitina storage tanks contain about 3.08 million barrels of crude oil and 180,000 barrels of condensate, the NOC said in a statement.

“NOC can confirm, that after considerable efforts, we have received the consent from all relevant parties to permit the Greek flag vessel New Hellas to enter Zueitina terminal in order that it will transfer a shipment to Zawiya refinery” in western Libya, the NOC said in a statement.

The NOC said the New Hellas would transport about 620,000 barrels of oil at a time to Zawiya, and that it would charter additional ships to finish the process as soon as possible.

“I want to express my appreciation to all sides for heeding our request,” NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said.

“It was the right thing to do and I think shows that when the opportunity arises, we Libyans can do the right thing. Instead of all being harmed, all will benefit.”

Libya’s oil output has been reduced to a fraction of the 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) it used to produce before the uprising that toppled late dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Recently, output has been hovering at about 200,000 bpd.

The NOC has ambitious plans to revive production but political disputes, blockades, insecurity and damage to oil facilities have so far frustrated their efforts.

Additional reporting and writing by Aidan Lewis; editing by Susan Thomas