BENGHAZI, Libya/LONDON (Reuters) - Libya’s oil ports of Hariga and Zueitina appeared to be working normally on Tuesday, sources said, after eastern-based forces said they had handed control terminals in the east to a parallel National Oil Corporation (NOC) in Benghazi.
Libya, politically divided since the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, has two rival versions of the NOC, the internationally recognized NOC based in Tripoli in the west and the alternative NOC in the eastern city of Benghazi.
The ports are vital to controlling Libya’s crude exports, the North African nation’s main source of revenue, although shifting who controls the terminals creates uncertainty for international buyers of Libyan oil, deterring business.
The announcement for transferring operations of eastern ports to NOC in Benghazi follows military action by the eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Khalifa Haftar to retake Ras Lanuf and Es Sider ports, which are also in the east and remain closed.
Those two closures have disrupted oil flows amounting to about 450,000 barrels per day (bpd), cutting by about half Libya’s total output of about 1 million bpd earlier this year.
But sources contacted by Reuters on Tuesday indicated that Hariga and Zueitina port operations were continuing.
A shipping source said the Atlantic Explorer tanker left Hariga fully loaded on Tuesday morning, while an oil source said the vessel had been chartered by the NOC in Tripoli.
In Zueitina, an oil official said the situation was normal, with two tankers at the terminal, the first loading 600,000 barrels of oil and the second due to load 1 million barrels.
Haftar earlier signed an order handing ports “liberated” by eastern forces to the Benghazi NOC, which is aligned to an eastern government that rejects the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
Alongside Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, a spokesman for the eastern LNA forces said the order included Zueitina and Hariga.
Combined exports from the five ports now under eastern control - Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Hariga, Zueitina and Brega - were about 520,000 barrels per day on June 1-25, compared with 780,000 bpd for the month of May, according to oil analytics firm Vortexa.
Eastern-based factions have repeatedly tried and failed to export oil independently, unable to circumvent U.N. Security Council resolutions that recognize the Tripoli NOC as the sole legitimate producer and seller of Libya’s oil.
The Tripoli government said the decision by the LNA would deepen divisions in Libya, which has been split between loose military and political factions in the two sides of the country since 2014.
“Such actions increase tension and anger and do not serve the path of consensus or lead in any way towards reconciliation, but establish disunity and engrain division,” the GNA said.
In its statement, the GNA also appealed to the U.N. Security Council and sanctions committee to “prevent all illegal sales operations that could happen due to these actions.”
However, a separate statement attributed to GNA Deputy Prime Minister Fathi al-Majbari and published on social media accounts expressed understanding for the LNA’s decision “due to systematic isolation and marginalization, and unfair distribution of the production resources.”
Majbari, who is from eastern Libya, was later abducted in Tripoli by one of the capital’s powerful armed groups along with a member of parliament from his home town, according to a source from the GNA’s leadership.
There was no official confirmation of the abduction but Tripoli’s armed groups, some vehemently opposed to Haftar, have repeatedly targeted prominent figures including politicians.
The internationally recognized NOC in Tripoli has condemned the LNA’s move as illegal, saying it would use “all options available” to legally pursue any companies that tried to buy oil from parallel institutions.
Analysts say Haftar’s decision to shift control of the ports could be aimed at leveraging more public money from Tripoli, where oil revenues are processed by a central bank governor whom eastern factions have tried to dislodge.
Another GNA deputy prime minister, Ahmed Maiteeg, told reporters in Tripoli that the NOC should be protected from politics.
“This NOC does not deal with funds ... it manages the oil sector and operates production and it succeeded recently in raising production to an excellent level and standard,” he said.
Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Jason Neely, Edmund Blair and Leslie Adler