BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - The chairman of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) visited the port of Zueitina on Wednesday and said he would work to lift force majeure there, according to the head of a guard force now in control of the terminal.
The visit by NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla comes days after forces loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar seized Zueitina and three other oil ports from a rival force allied to the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli.
Sanalla said on Tuesday that the NOC would begin work immediately to restart exports from the ports, but the plan could face political and legal resistance.
Some members of the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has criticized Haftar’s seizure of the ports, and Western powers condemned the move, saying they were ready to prevent any exports attempted outside the GNA’s authority.
Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) started taking over the ports in a dawn operation on Sunday. They displaced a guard force led by Ibrahim Jathran, who had recently signed a controversial deal with the GNA to lift his blockade of Ras Lanuf, Es Sider and Zueitina.
Miftah Magariaf, the head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) allied with Haftar’s forces, said Sanalla had told employees at Zueitina to “prepare for production” and that he would “go to Tripoli to complete steps for the lifting of force majeure at the port”.
Political turmoil, armed conflict and militant attacks have reduced Libya’s oil production to a fraction of the 1.6 million barrels per day it produced before the North African country’s 2011 uprising.
Some infrastructure, including at Ras Lanuf and Es Sider terminals, has been badly damaged.
Sanalla said on Tuesday that production could be raised to 600,000 bpd from about 290,000 bpd within a month, and to 950,000 bpd by the end of the year.
But he said this would depend on the NOC receiving new funds and on the reopening of pipelines in southwest Libya that have been shut in a protest.
Sanalla is head of the NOC in Tripoli, which has continued to enjoy international backing throughout Libya’s crisis.
He signed an agreement in July to unite Tripoli’s NOC with a rival NOC in Benghazi that is loyal to pro-Haftar factions.
Writing by Aidan Lewis; editing by David Clarke and Jason Neely