BENGHAZI, Libya/TUNIS (Reuters) - Libya’s Tripoli-based National Oil Corp (NOC) said on Wednesday that four export terminals were being reopened after eastern factions handed over the ports, ending a standoff that had shut down most of the country’s oil output.
Production and export operations would be restored “within the next few hours”, an NOC statement said, though the restart at Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, where workers were evacuated and storage tanks damaged in fighting last month, was expected to be gradual.
Eastern factions had effectively blockaded exports from the territory they control since last month, saying too much oil revenue processed through Tripoli was going to armed groups based in western Libya, including their rivals.
The disruption had threatened to keep offline as much as 850,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Libyan oil, from previous production of a little over 1 million bpd.
It also risked deepening a wedge between rival political and military alliances based in eastern and western Libya since disputed elections four years ago, and complicating U.N.-led efforts to end years of turmoil following the country’s 2011 uprising.
Ras Lanuf and Es Sider ports were shut when armed opponents of eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar attacked them on June 14.
The assault was repelled a week later, but eastern officials aligned with Haftar blocked the internationally recognized NOC in Tripoli from reentering the ports and stopped loadings at Zueitina and Hariga terminals, saying they would take control of exports through a parallel NOC based in the east.
NOC Tripoli announced the ports had been restored to its control early on Wednesday, allowing it to lift force majeure, a legal waiver on contractual obligations, at all four terminals. It commended Haftar’s Libyan National Army for “putting the national interest first” by handing them back.
Eastern oil facilities guards and the head of the parallel NOC, Faraj Said, confirmed the ports were reopening, although Said told Reuters that Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, which have been damaged in repeated rounds of fighting, required maintenance.
“The ports of Zueitina and Hariga are now open for any tankers carrying a contract. Ras Lanuf and Es Sider need some maintenance,” he said.
Over the past two weeks eastern factions had come under intense international pressure to end the stoppage, according to diplomatic sources.
In an apparent concession to the east, the internationally recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli called late on Tuesday for the formation of an international committee that could review the spending of rising oil revenues.
NOC Tripoli Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said the debate over fair distribution of oil revenues was “at the heart of the recent crisis”.
“The real solution is transparency, so I renew my call on the responsible authorities, the ministry of finance and central bank, to publish budgets and detailed public expenditure,” he was quoted as saying in the NOC statement.
(Graphic: Libya's oil ports - tmsnrt.rs/2JbTfpu)
Reporting by Aidan Lewis and Ayman al-Warfalli; Editing by Jason Neely and Dale Hudson