Libya Working to Reopen Oil Ports After Crude Producer Unity

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The Marsa al-Hariga oil terminal in eastern Libya.

Photographer: Abdullah Doma/AFP via Getty Images
  • No timing for lifting of force majeure on ports yet: NOC
  • Four of biggest oil ports shut due to politics, fighting

Libya’s government of national unity is working to reopen four of the OPEC country’s biggest oil ports after securing a deal to help unify the fractured nation’s state energy company.

Four ports accounting for about 860,000 barrels a day in crude-exporting capacity have been shut due to political turmoil and fighting. A July 2 deal to unify rival administrations of the National Oil Corp. was meant to end the conflict over who can control oil sales in Libya, where factions are working to set up a Government of National Accord to help rebuild the country after five years of strife.

The presidential council in Tripoli started a meeting on Wednesday to discuss several issues including the lifting of force majeure that is blocking the reopening of the oil ports, Musa Al-Koni, vice president of the council, said by phone. Force majeure, a legal status protecting a party from liability if it can’t fulfill a contract for reasons beyond its control, was imposed after the ports came under attack.

“The unity government is currently working on solving issues to reopen the strategic oil ports,” Mohamed Elharari, an NOC spokesman, said in a telephone interview from Tripoli. “There’s no timeline yet for lifting force majeure for oil ports. It’s not known to us yet, but we hope this happens soon.”

Rival Administrations

Libya, with Africa’s largest proven crude reserves, split into separately governed regions in 2014, leading to the establishment of competing NOC administrations. The Government of National Accord, based in Tripoli, is trying to extend its authority over the rest of the country. Since the ouster five years ago of long-time ruler Moammar Al Qaddafi, Libya’s oil facilities and ports have been attacked and its crude output has slumped.

The country currently pumps about 350,000 barrels a day of crude and exports 220,000 to 250,000 barrels a day, Elharari said. Libya was producing 1.6 million barrels a day before Qaddafi was toppled in a 2011 revolt and is now the second-smallest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, ahead of Gabon.

The closed ports of Es Sider, Zawiya, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina have a combined export capacity greater than the output of either Indonesia, Qatar or Ecuador -- fellow OPEC members. Es Sider, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina are shut under force majeure. Zawiya is shut for exports.

After the reopening of Es Sider, the country’s biggest oil port, and Ras Lanuf, the third-largest, terminal operators will assess how much time they need to resume exporting, Elharari said. Both ports have come under attack, and most of Es Sider’s storage tanks are damaged, he said. Zueitina is “completely functional” and ready to operate once force majeure is lifted, he said.

Crude exports from Es Sider and Ras Lanuf are to resume within a week, Ibrahim al-Jedran, a regional commander of Libya’s Petroleum Facilities Guard, said on July 7 in a phone interview. The shipments will be made under the authority of the unity government, he said.

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