Libya exports first oil cargo from Ras Lanuf since 2014

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - An oil tanker left the Libyan port of Ras Lanuf for Italy early on Wednesday with the first crude export cargo from the terminal since at least late 2014, boosting hopes of reviving Libya’s oil output.

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The port manager of Ras Lanuf said a second tanker was preparing to load at the terminal, one of four seized on Sept. 11-12 by eastern Libyan forces loyal to military leader Khalifa Haftar.

Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) has welcomed a promise by Haftar’s forces to allow the NOC to control the ports. NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said on Wednesday that national production had risen to about 390,000 barrels per day (bpd) from less than 290,000 bpd before the change of control at the ports.

Any boost in production through the ports could also benefit the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli as it tries to unite rival armed factions and stabilize the economy, though Haftar has so far rejected the GNA.

The NOC said last week it would begin exports immediately from Ras Lanuf and Zueitina, and that it would start them as soon as possible from Es Sider. Exports have continued from Brega, the fourth port that was seized and that had remained open.

Together, the ports have a capacity of nearly 800,000 barrels per day (bpd), though Ras Lanuf and Es Sider have been damaged in clashes and Brega has been operating at below its maximum capacity.

Armed conflict and disputes have left Libya’s oil installations under the control of different factions and cut output to a fraction of the 1.6 million bpd it produced before an uprising toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The NOC has ambitious goals of producing more than 900,000 bpd by the end of the year, but says it needs funding for its operating budget and the reopening of blockaded pipelines in western Libya to reach that target.

Sanalla said on Wednesday that the NOC had so far received 310 million Libyan dinars ($220 million) from the GNA, and had been promised another 300 million. “These amounts of money are not enough but we take into account the difficult financial situation currently,” he said.

Haftar’s forces seized the ports from a rival armed group that had controlled them for more than two years, and fended off a counter attack on Sunday.

Many in western Libya suspect Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally, of plotting to take power nationally.

Factions that support him have tried to export oil from eastern Libya independently, bypassing the NOC in Tripoli, though they have also allowed oil shipments for NOC Tripoli to continue from the eastern port of Hariga.

After Haftar’s forces seized the ports the United States and major European powers called for them to withdraw, cautioning that they would move to block any shipments that took place outside the authority of the GNA.

The Seadelta tanker that left Ras Lanuf on Wednesday loaded with 700,000 barrels of crude and the second tanker that was preparing to load were both arranged before Haftar’s forces seized the ports.

Sanalla has said he received the go-ahead from the GNA’s leadership before moving to open the ports last week, and that export earnings would be channeled through Tripoli. “The increase of oil production will help earn more money and the revenues will go to the central bank,” he said on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Writing by Aidan Lewis, editing by Patrick Markey