Libyan rebels lift port blockade

02 July 2014

Rebels announce handover of Libyan ports amid concerns over continuing disruptions

Libyan rebels in the country’s east have announced they are returning the two remaining ports under their control to the government in a move that has the potential to boost the country’s crude output by 560,000 barrels a day (b/d).

In a statement to Bloomberg, rebel spokesman Ali al-Hasi said Ras Lanuf and Es Sider ports would be handed over by the rebels on 2 July as a gesture of goodwill.

“The Political Council and the Executive Office for the Barqa region are lifting the blockade that was imposed on the oil ports of the region, in support of the parliament that was elected recently, which the Libyans hope will guide the country in the correct path,” he said.

The announcement comes in the wake of a six-point deal made in April that saw the ports of Zueitina and Marsa al-Hariga returned to the government in return for a number of commitments including salary payments to members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard who defected to the rebels.

Speaking to Meed on 2 July, Osama Burra, another spokesman for the rebels, confirmed that the handover was taking place, but warned there may be delays as not all rebel demands have been met by the government.

“There are still delays because of the instability of the administrative cabinet in the country,” he said.

Although the return of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider has the potential to significantly boost Libyan exports, many analysts believe there is likely to be more disruption and declines in production in the near future.

Richard Mallinson, geopolitical analyst at UK research firm Energy Aspects, says that while the rebels have nominally handed back the ports, they still have the capacity to retake them if negotiations with Libya’s new parliament do not go to plan – and are likely to use this power to put pressure on Tripoli.

“The rebels are unlikely to soften their demands, which means whatever the complexion of a new Libyan parliament and government, it will still be difficult to achieve a deal… protests are going to continue to heavily disrupt Libyan oil production through the rest of 2014 and next year,” he says.

Libya has seen limited gains in crude output since Zueitina and Marsa al-Hariga oil terminals were handed over to the government in April. Under the deal, the ports were meant to resume normal activity that month. Zueitina remains disrupted, however, due to supply issues and Marsa al-Hariga has been forced to shut several times since the deal was made, as members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard applied pressure on the government to deliver on its promise of salary payments.

According to official data, Libyan oil production has increased from lows of about 150,000 b/d at the end of March to about 320,000 b/d, a fifth of the county’s exports before the 2011 revolution, but according to data gathered by Energy Aspects the actual numbers could be as low as 270,000 b/d.

Disruption at oil terminals has cost Libya more than $14 billion in lost revenue over the last 12 months.

The struggle between the government and the federalist rebels that control Es Sider and Ras Lanuf is taking place amid a wider armed conflict between Islamists militants and forces led by anti-Islamist general Khalifa Haftar.

Adding to Libya’s instability problems, its new government is likely to struggle with legitimacy after a low turnout at the general election. Many polling stations did not open due to security reasons and only 630,000 people voted compared with 3 million in 2012.




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