Tensions are reaching breaking point on the eastern coast of Libya after a North Korean vessel attempted to leave the militant occupied dock of Es-Sider this weekend.
The Morning Glory, appeared unannounced on Mediterranean waters earlier last week, hovering near the Es-Sider Oil port, one of three oil depots seized by Ibrahim Jathran after the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011.*
According to local news source Al-Wasat, the vessel has now been loaded with almost US$36 million in crude oil.
Further support comes from the airing of celebrations and the sacrifice of a camel in honour of a first successful shipment on militia controlled television. A tanker is seen floating in the distance.
This news has resulted in a massive military standstill between both the government and the militia.
This weekend, the Defence Ministry issued orders to the chief of staff, the air force and the navy granting them permission to deal with the tanker by any means necessary. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan also appeared on television, threatening that “the tanker will be bombed if it doesn’t follow orders when leaving.”
Yesterday, culture minister Habib al-Amin announced that several naval vessels had been dispatched to the area and that “all efforts are being undertaken to stop and seize the tanker.”
Earlier in January, a Malta-flagged vessel was fired upon by Libyan naval forces to prevent its entry to the same port.
As of yet there has been no sign of such action in the current situation, but Libyan news sites have begun to show pictures of small boats approaching a tanker believed to be the Morning Glory.
Abb-Rabbo al-Barassi, self-declared Prime minister of the autonomous movement has warned against sending any navy ships into the waters of “Cyrenaica,” the historic name for the eastern region of Libya. The use of the title is a direct nod to the rule of King Idris. The militia are hoping to return to an Idris-era style of governance, whereby each region of Libya would receive an equal share of revenue from the sales of oil.
Al-Barassi went on to say that any attempt to intervene with the Morning Glory “would be a declaration of war”.
Whilst the official Libyan government has steadily been making attempts to rebuild armed forces since Gaddafi’s downfall, it is unlikely that the force would be able to best the battle-hardened militia that currently control the docks, at the very least without serious casualties.
The group is one of many under the rule of Ibrahim Jathran, who was originally enlisted by the government to protect facilities before establishing a coup last August.
The resulting protests have decimated the Libyan oil industry with exports dropping from 1.4 million barrels of oil per day (opd) to a meagre 200,000.
Matters were made worse after a number of workers at state-owned company National Oil Corp (NOC) held strikes in the capital, in protest of the lack of government action to both restore order at the ports and protect the lives of workers remaining loyal to the company.
To add further complications to the mix, a spokesman for NOC speaking to Reuters, suggested that the Morning Glory was no longer in service for North Korea – rather that it had changed hands, now in the service of a Saudi-based company under the name of Gulf Glory.
So far the Saudi embassy has refused any knowledge of such a deal, denying its association with the vessel.