December 27, 2014 / 3:53 PM / 5 years ago

Libya asks Italy to help extinguish fire at biggest oil port

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Libya has called on Italy to send firefighters to prevent a fire spreading out of control at Es Sider, the country’s biggest oil port, officials said on Saturday.

Smoke rises from an oil tank fire in Es Sider port December 26, 2014. A fire at an oil storage tank at Libya's Es Sider port has spread to two more tanks after a rocket hit the country's biggest terminal during clashes between forces allied to competing governments, officials said on Friday. Picture taken December 26, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

A rocket hit an oil storage tank last week at the port in the east of the country during clashes between forces allied to Libya’s competing governments.

Ali al-Hassi, spokesman for a security force allied to the internationally-recognized government, said the fire had spread to a total of five oil tanks.

“We are trying to extinguish it but our capacities are limited,” he said.

The North African country is struggling with fighting on several fronts as brigades of former rebels who battled side by side to oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 now compete for political power and a share of oil revenues.

Libya has had two parallel governments since August when a group called Libya Dawn seized Tripoli, forcing the internationally recognized administration headed by Abdullah al-Thinni out of the capital.

Es Sider and its adjacent Ras Lanuf oil terminal have been closed since a force allied to a rival government in Tripoli tried to take them two weeks ago. This has affected exports of an estimated 300,000 barrels of oil a day.

Issa al-Oraiby, chairman of the energy committee in the Thinni government’s House of Representatives, said lawmakers had asked Italy to help with firefighters.

“Italy expressed its willingness to assist in extinguishing the fire at the Es Sider oil tanks but only under the condition that fighting stopped,” he said. Italy is one of the few European countries which still has an embassy in Libya.

The fighting between rival groups in the country has reduced Libya’s crude output to 352,000 barrels a day, Libya’s National Oil Company said on Thursday. Es Sider and Ras Lanuf ports had been processing an estimated 300,000 bpd until their closure.

Es Sider is fed from fields run by Waha Oil Co, a joint-venture of NOC with U.S. companies Hess, Marathon and ConocoPhillips.

Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli and Ahmed Elumami, writing Ulf Laessing; Editing by Jane Merriman

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