Libya rebels set for oil exports as tanker docks

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Libyan rebels were set Tuesday to begin exporting oil for the first time since mid-March after a tanker capable of holding $100 million worth of crude docked at an eastern port.

The Liberian-flagged tanker "has docked in Tobruk," Michelle Bockmann, markets editor of shipping news and data provider Lloyd's List, told AFP in London. "The boat is expected to be loaded on April 6."

Earlier, Bockman said the ship was "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' (70.5 million euros) worth of crude."

The rebels would neither confirm nor deny reports the ship was due on Tuesday, calling it a matter of "national security".

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.

In Brussels, the European Union said the sale of Libyan oil is fair game as long as Kadhafi does not profit.

"If revenues don't reach the Kadhafi regime, then we have no issue with commercial dealings in Libyan oil and gas and they should be regulated by normal trade practices," said Michael Mann, spokesman for chief EU diplomat Catherine Ashton.

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.

Fethi Faraj, a rebel official in Tobruk, said two shipments had left between February 28 and mid-March, but he did not elaborate.

According to the International Energy Agency, Libya's 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."

On Friday, the rebels said they had signed a deal with Qatar to market exported oil in exchange for food, medicine and, they hope, weapons, but 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 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

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