The Libya National Army (LNA) claimed on Tuesday to have retaken the country’s key oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider from a rival faction that seized them earlier this month.
The LNA, led by General Khalifa Haftar, and aligned with Libya’s House of Representatives, has been fighting the Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB) faction in the Oil Crescent since the beginning of March, forcing it to retake the oil ports from a rival faction for the second time in less than a year.
According to the LNA, as of Tuesday afternoon EST, its forces were still in pursuit of BDB fighters, who were on the run after they lost control of the ports.
It was only in September last year, when the LNA wrested control of the ports from rival factions, that Libya’s oil started flowing again, prompting calls for a ramp up in production and exports after a long, budget-draining hiatus.
In September, the LNA also retook control of two other key oil export terminals in the Oil Crescent—Zueitina and Brega.
The fighting between the LNA and BDB has so far been limited to Ras Lanuf and Es Sider.
The BDB claims to have no alliances, but is widely thought to be a radical Islamist faction. The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium lists the BDB as an Islamist group formed in opposition to the LNA and consolidating fighters from other factions opposed to General Haftar.
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After retaking the ports in September, the LNA handed control over them to the National Oil Company (NOC), and crude exports were resumed after a two-year blockade, during which time the terminals were controlled by the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG)—an armed group affiliated at the time with the UN-backed Libyan government, and used its control to extract money from various authorities.
Libya has lost 35,000 barrels per day since the latest clashes broke out in the beginning of March, putting production down to about 660,000 bpd. Before the latest clashes, Libya was producing around 700,000 barrels of oil daily, with plans to raise this to 1.1 million barrels by the end of the year.
Last week, due to ongoing clashes, the Overseas Redwood oil tanker, scheduled to load 630,000 barrels of crude at Es Sider, was forced to dock instead at Zawiya port.
The latest clashes had also forced Waha Oil Co - a joint venture between Libya’s NOC and U.S. firms Hess Corp, Marathon Oil, and ConocoPhillips – to suspend production over port closures.
By Damir Kaletovic for Oilprice.com
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Damir Kaletovic is a veteran investigative journalist covering Europe and the Middle East, and a senior consultant for Divergente Research.