Libya Airplanes Set Oil Tanker Ablaze Amid Political Strife

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Warplanes belonging to Libya’s internationally recognized government bombed a gasoil tanker at a port controlled by the North African nation’s rival Islamist leaders, the regional coastguard commander said.

The Anwaar Afriqya, a tanker carrying 30,000 metric tons of gasoil from Motor Oil Hellas’s refinery in Greece, was attacked while anchored off Sirte in central Libya, Rida Issa, the coastguard chief, said by phone. The airstrike caused a fire on the tanker which was later extinguished, the vessel’s second-in-command, Fakhri Mohammed, said.

“We succeeded in avoiding an environmental catastrophe,” Mohammed said by phone Monday.

Libya, holder of Africa’s largest oil reserves, has been split since a coalition of Islamist militias captured Tripoli last year and forced the elected government to flee the capital city in the country’s west and relocate to the eastern region. Each of the two governments supports a rival management of the state-owned National Oil Corp, or NOC.

The conflict in Libya has damaged or shut oil fields, pipelines and ports, reducing the nation’s crude output to about 400,000 barrels a day, Mohamed Elharari, spokesman for NOC’s Tripoli-based management said May 18. Libya pumped almost 1.6 million barrels before the 2011 rebellion that ended Muammar Qaddafi’s 42-year rule.

Serious Consequences

The attack on the Anwaar Afriqya killed one person and wounded another, Issa said Sunday. The ship’s cargo was meant to supply the electricity station in Sirte, he said.

NOC’s Tripoli-based management condemned the attack, saying the tanker had the permission to carry the fuel to the city. “This incident will have serious consequences on the national economy and the livelihood of all Libyan people,” the Islamist-backed management said on its website. “It will make it more difficult to find tankers willing to operate in Libyan waters.”

The ship was struck by planes belonging to General Khalifa Haftar, the head of the armed forces of the internationally recognized administration, according to Issa. “They apparently believed that the tanker was carrying fighters” loyal to the rival government in Tripoli, he said.

The Libya-flagged ship is registered to owners Libyan Product Carrier Ltd., according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The double-hull ship reached Sirte on May 22 after sailing from Agio Theodhoroi in Greece, the data show.

The Islamist-backed government in Tripoli controls part of Sirte, including the outskirts where the power station is located. The rest of the city was taken over by a local militia loyal to Islamic State, the group that declared a caliphate over parts of Syria and Iraq.

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