By Maher Chmaytelli
Libya’s government struck from the air at Islamist militias it said shelled the country’s largest oil port today, according to the military unit in charge of protecting export terminals.
The strike comes two days after the Petroleum Facilities Guard gave the militias 72 hours to return to Misrata, their main stronghold, to avoid the airstrikes after an earlier attack on the Es Sider terminal.
“We decided to order attacks from the air without waiting after the rocket attack on Es Sider,” Ali al-Hasy, a spokesman for unit, said by phone from the port, where loading was halted Dec. 13 after a first round of clashes.
Aircraft belonging to the internationally recognized government of Abdullah al-Thinni attacked the artillery unit that fired on the port and bombed positions in Misrata and along the front line in Bin Jawad, 35 kilometers west of Es Sider, he said.
The self-proclaimed government of Omar al-Hassi didn’t confirm today’s bombing of the port. On Dec. 13 it ordered the Islamist militias backing it to wrest the eastern oil export terminals from the control of Thinni’s government.
A fire at the storage terminal caused by today’s shelling has been contained and there is no risk of it spreading to other facilities, al-Hasy said.
Brent oil advanced 22 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $60.46 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange at 11:48 a.m. Singapore time. The global benchmark grade has lost about 45 percent this year. West Texas Intermediate added 25 cents to $56.09.
State-run National Oil Corp. on Dec. 13 declared force majeure in Es Sider and the neighboring port of Ras Lanuf, Libya’s third-largest, because of the fighting. Force majeure is a legal clause that protects a company from liability when it can’t fulfill a contract for reasons beyond its control.
The fighting caused crude output to decline to 352,000 barrels a day, Mohamed Elharari, a spokesman for National Oil, said today by phone.
This level makes Libya, which sits on Africa’s largest oil reserves, the smallest producer of the 12-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The country was producing about 1.6 million barrels a day before the 2011 rebellion that ended Muammar Qaddafi’s 42-year rule.
The Petroleum Facilities Guard said the militias killed 14 soldiers who were guarding a power plant in Sirte, a former Qaddafi stronghold west of Es Sider.
Sirte is under the control of the Islamist-backed government and the militias deployed there pledged to cooperate with the investigation to identify the attackers, their spokesman, Ismail Shukri, told the Tripoli-based Libyan News Agency. Sirte’s council of tribal elders called on the population to exercise self-restraint as the slain men are all from the city, Lana said.
Thinni’s government sought refuge in the country’s eastern region after militias took over Tripoli five months ago. Libya has nine oil ports, of which two, Jurf and Bouri are offshore and relatively immune to the fighting. Those in Mellitah, Hariga and Brega are open, while loadings are halted at Zawiya and Zueitina because of protests and fighting at oil fields upstream, according to National Oil.
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