Haftar's Army Says Key Libyan Oil Ports Back Under Its Control

  • Eastern forces say they have seized Ras Lanuf, Es Sider
  • Sites were seized by Benghazi Defense Brigades on March 3

Forces controlled by Libya’s eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar said they had retaken two of the country’s major oil ports which had been seized by a rival group about two weeks ago, triggering clashes that curbed oil production in the holder of Africa’s largest crude reserves.

The ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, a petrochemicals factory and the nearby Harouge storage tanks had all been recaptured on Tuesday in a land, air and sea offensive, said Miftah Al Magaraif, head of a Petroleum Facilities Guard faction loyal to Haftar. His Libyan National Army announced its full control of the ports on its official Facebook page. The facilities were seized from Haftar earlier this month by a rival group, which later said it handed them to the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli.

Haftar’s recapture of the two terminals will help boost the OPEC country’s oil exports to 550,000-600,000 barrels a day within days, Riccardo Fabiani, a London-based senior analyst at consultants Eurasia Group, said in an emailed report. It will also allow the increase in output from oil fields which normally feed the terminals, he said.

More than a year after a UN-mediated peace deal meant to end years of conflict and economic ruin that have followed the ousting of former leader Muammar Qaddafi, Libya remains deeply divided, primarily between administrations in the west and east. The latest fighting is a setback for political efforts to restore stability and plot an economic recovery. Control of oil assets would provide leverage in future talks on ending Libya’s crisis and have been a key focus of competing factions.

There was no immediate comment from the UN-backed administration. Late on Monday, the head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard units affiliated with it had called for international help to enforce a no-fly zone over the Gulf of Sirte, home to Es Sider, Libya’s largest oil export terminal. The media office of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s Presidential Council said Haftar had been targeting the oil facilities since Sunday.

Powerful Allies

Before Haftar’s forces announced the success of its offensive, Jadalla Alaokali, a board member at National Oil Corp., said by phone that no damage to oil infrastructure had been reported so far.

Though he’s opposed by militias across central and western Libya, where 70 percent of the population lives, Haftar has powerful friends in the standoff with Serraj -- Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are major backers. He also has widespread support in Libya’s east. The quick capture of the oil ports on March 3 by the Benghazi Defense Brigades was seen by many analysts as a blow to Haftar’s image. His popularity had soared last September when he seized the facilities and allowed oil to flow.

“This successful counteroffensive will partly restore Haftar’s military reputation in the eyes of his domestic and international supporters,” Eurasia’s Fabiani said. “Losing control of the oil ports area damaged his image as a strongman who can bring back order and stability to Libya and temporarily weakened his position.”

Exports from Es Sider and Ras Lanuf were suspended as the Benghazi militias advanced early this month. Crude production halted at Waha Oil Co., which pumps crude to Es Sider, pushing output down by 13 percent to 602,900 barrels a day, according to Alaokali. Waha is a joint venture between the NOC, Hess Corp., Marathon Oil Corp. and ConocoPhillips.

Under UN regulations, the Serraj government is the only entity allowed to sell oil, and export revenues go to the Tripoli central bank.

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