• Ship now anchored off Malta with 650,000 barrels of crude
  • U.S. says oil sales shouldn't be outside `legitimate channels'

Malta barred entry to a tanker carrying the first oil cargo shipped by the government in eastern Libya since the country with Africa’s biggest crude reserves split into competing power centers in its east and west.

The tanker Distya Ameya “is not authorized to enter Maltese territorial waters, and all requests will be refused,” Malta’s port authority said Tuesday in an order distributed to all shipping agents in the island nation. The ship was anchored at Hurd Bank, 12 kilometers (seven miles) off the Mediterranean state’s southeastern coast, according to the authority, Transport Malta.

The vessel earlier left eastern Libya’s Hariga port after loading 650,000 barrels of crude, Omran al-Zwai, a spokesman for Arabian Gulf Oil Co., said Monday by phone. The National Oil Corp. in Tripoli in western Libya called the shipment “illegal” and informed the country’s incipient UN-backed unity government about the eastern government’s attempt to export oil independently, an NOC spokesman, Mohamed Elharari, said by phone.

Libya broke into two separately governed regions in late 2014, one centered around the capital city Tripoli in the west and an internationally recognized government in the east. Libyans are currently working with foreign support to set up a Government of National Accord. The NOC leadership in Tripoli, recognized by traders such as Glencore Plc and Vitol Group as the country’s official crude marketer, has repeatedly warned traders against loading “illicit” cargoes of oil from the NOC administration in the east.

“We are very concerned about purchases of Libyan oil that are outside these legitimate channels,” Mark Toner, a U.S. State Department spokesman, told reporters in Washington. He said other countries should “refrain from enabling this illegal activity.”

U.A.E.-Based Buyer

The cargo refused by Malta was sold to DSA Consultancy FZC, a company based in the United Arab Emirates, said Nagi Elmagrabi, head of the NOC in eastern Libya. 

The eastern NOC is “fully committed to all contracts and agreements signed by past and future legal governments,” Elmagrabi said in a letter released Monday. He said the management board of the eastern NOC was “working hard to help close the ranks” at the divided state oil company.

Oil-industry executives are trying to reunify the company within weeks as the OPEC member seeks to triple production to 1 million barrels a day, NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said Thursday at a conference in Paris. Sanalla and the NOC in Tripoli say they have remained independent of the Islamist-backed government based in Tripoli.

Navy SEALs

Rebels had tried to ship crude from the central Libyan port of Es Sider on March 11, 2014, before the vessel was seized a few days later by U.S. Navy SEALs southeast of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The Morning Glory tanker was then re-routed to a port under the control of authorities in Tripoli.

Libya pumped about 1.6 million barrels a day of crude before the 2011 rebellion that ended Moammar Al Qaddafi’s 42-year rule. It’s now the smallest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, producing 361,000 barrels a day, according to Sanalla. Since Qaddafi’s ouster and death, armed militias are also competing for control of the nation’s oil facilities.

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