Six armed men have seized the Haci Telli oil tanker sailing under a Turkish flag in the Libyan port of Zuwarah, claiming that the company leasing the vessel owes the port of Zuwarah US$433,000 for oil purchased earlier. The armed group is holding 11 crew members on another vessel near the port.
According to Turkish news agency Deniz Haber Ajansi, the operator of the tanker is Transpacific Shipping. The vessel set sail from the Turkish port of Tuzla on February 11, with a final destination Lavaleta, Malta. The Libyan port, it appears, was supposed to be a mid-way stop, so the tanker could load oil.
The Haci Telli anchored at Zuwarah on February 24, when the armed men boarded it as security officers, as part of a standard procedure aimed at ensuring the safety of the vessels docking at Zuwarah.
Deniz Haber Ajansi reports that they then said the vessel’s operator owed money to the port and informed the crew that they had to take some of them to ensure the payment was made. In case that was not done, the tanker would be sold and the crew would not be released. The crew has been held in captivity since February 24.
Another Turkish source, Gunes, referred to the armed men that captured the crew of Haci Telli as “sea pirates.”
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Militias are part of the landscape in Libya, and their internal fighting has focused heavily on the country’s abundant oil reserves. One of these groups, the Petroleum Facilities Guard, held all four major Libyan oil export terminals under its control, using them as bargaining chips with the government.
Last September, the ports were taken by another group with growing popularity, the Libyan National Army, which handed control of the ports to the National Oil Corporation. Early this year, exports were resumed, albeit slowly and tentatively. Libya’s current oil production is about 700,000 barrels daily.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.