Rebels set for oil exports as tanker nears port
Libyan rebels appeared set to export oil for the first time in 18 days on Tuesday as a tanker capable of holding 100 million dollars' (70.5 million euros) worth of crude neared an eastern port.
The shipping news service Lloyd's List said the tanker was due to dock at the rebel-held port of Tobruk. The rebels would not confirm or deny the report, calling it a matter of "national security".
"There is a tanker which is scheduled to arrive later today at the oil terminal near Tobruk, according to Lloyd's Intelligence checking data," said Michelle Wiese Bockmann of Lloyd's List.
"We have yet to confirm if it has arrived ... The owner of the tanker has yet to comment," she said, adding that the Liberian-flagged ship was due to dock at the Marsa el-Hariga terminal.
"It's a Suezmax tanker and it's able to load one million barrels, or about 130,000 tonnes of oil. So it's over 100 million dollars' worth of crude."
A spokesman for the Transitional National Council in the rebel stronghold city of Benghazi declined to comment on the report.
"These are national security questions, telling the enemy what we have and what we don't ... So we prefer not to comment on these things," Mustafa Gheriani told AFP.
Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi "is trying to bomb the oilfield, so this is a national security matter", he said, referring to an attack on the Mislah oil installation early Monday morning blamed on Kadhafi troops.
Libya, a key crude-exporting nation that was producing some 1.7 million barrels a day (bpd) before the uprising broke out in mid-February, has seen its output slashed since.
Bockmann said the last oil shipment from Libya was on March 18, and that there had been "none at all" since then.
According to the International Energy Agency, its exports averaged 1.49 million bpd before the uprising, with 85 percent of that going to Europe.
"If this shipment does go ahead, I think it will send a very strong message that international oil (exporting) is going to resume," added Bockmann.
"It's quite a risky business. The ship owner, I would imagine, is being paid a significant premium to bring that ship there."
She added that there were separate unconfirmed reports of other ships that could be heading for Libya at some stage.
"There are several tankers that analysts are looking at that could be heading for (Libyan) ports. We are not sure.
"There are also anecdotal reports amongst ship-brokers of off-market deals being done to ship oil from Libya. But none of that is confirmed and it's only speculation."
The rebels said on Friday that they had signed a deal with Qatar to market exported oil in exchange for food, medicine and, they hope, weapons, but said they were still struggling to secure the necessary transport vessels.
"We wanted to do it last week, but just because you have an agreement to sell or market the oil through Qatar, the logistics take a while," Gheriani said.
Qatar has yet to confirm the deal.
Kadhafi's forces retook the main belt of Libyan oil facilities in and around Ras Lanuf last week after rebels had twice seized the installations, and on Tuesday drove the rebels back from the oil town of Brega.
The rebels also accused Kadhafi's forces of being behind the Mislah attack, which damaged a diesel storage tank.
Ali Tarhoni, a senior rebel council member in charge of oil and finance, has said that the rebels could export up to 300,000 barrels a day through Tobruk.
While Libya's exports meet only two percent of worldwide demand, the unrest there has jolted world markets because it produces much prized "sweet", low-sulphur crude which is easy and cheap to refine into petrol.
© 2011 AFP