London – Libya’s interim prime minister, defence minister Abdullah al-Thani, hopes to be able to bring about an end to the 10-month blockade of the country’s eastern oil ports through dialogue with rebels, rather than force.
Speaking at a press conference late Wednesday in Tripoli, he said: “We do not wish to resort to the use of force — dialogue will be the basic rule.” Libya’s parliament earlier this week approved the creation of a new armed force to end the blockade — in place since July 2013 — within two weeks, using force if necessary.
The blockade of the ports of Es Sider, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina — with a combined capacity of 630,000 b/d — has seen Libya’s oil exports fall to a trickle.
Al-Thani was accompanied at the press conference, a transcript of which was posted Thursday to the prime minister’s website, by oil minister-designate Omar Shakmak and culture minister Amin al-Habib.
Shakmak said the shutdown of the ports had had a “severe impact” on revenues in the second half of 2013.
He said Libya had lost more than $8 billion in revenues in that time.
“The deficit continued in the first quarter of 2014 and the proportion of income earned in accordance with the budget was just 16% in January,” he said.
“In February, it was the same percentage or less, so there is no doubt of the importance of oil as a source of funding for the Libyan people,” he said.
Al-Thani took over as prime minister on Tuesday after the country’s highest political authority, the GNC, ousted former PM Ali Zeidan.
Zeidan was sacked after a vote of no confidence that followed the news that the Libyan navy had failed to contain an oil tanker carrying an “illegal” cargo of Es Sider crude, which managed to escape the convoy that was accompanying it to a government-held port in western Libya.
ESCAPED TANKER CHAIN OF EVENTS
Asked about the fate of the North Korea-flagged tanker, the Morning Glory, al-Habib said it had managed to leave Libyan waters despite being hit by a Libyan air attack.
“This process was difficult to manage for several reasons,” he said, adding that the airforce had been slow to mobilize and there had been bad weather in the past days.
He said the tanker was hit by the Libyan air force on Wednesday and had caught fire off the Libyan coast near Benghazi.
At this point, it ordered no further attacks to avoid “an environmental disaster in that area.”
“Everyone thought that the tanker would stop, but unfortunately it managed to repair the damage and was able to move north,” he said, adding that the navy was looking to catch up with the vessel.
The latest information, he said, was that the Morning Glory was off the coast at Marsa Matrouh in Egyptian territorial waters.
“The Libyan Foreign Ministry contacted countries concerned in the Mediterranean basin,” he said, adding that former PM Zeidan had asked the Egyptian government to prevent entry of the vessel into its waters.
“That is the latest information that we have, and this scenario is true and complete,” he said.
Shakmak urged the eastern rebels, which loaded the Es Sider cargo, to end their blockade and cooperate with the government “for the good of all Libyans.”
“Our goal is not to harm any of our Libyan brothers,” he said.
“On the contrary, the invitation is open for you [the rebels] to restart the oil ports to achieve revenue sufficient to finance the budget,” he said.
The government has said it would intervene at the ports on numerous occasions in recent months, but there has still been no action on the ground.
Libyan oil production has been disrupted intermittently by strikes and protests since late May last year.
In the earlier part of 2013, output had recovered to around 1.4 million b/d — within sight of pre-uprising levels of almost 1.6 million b/d — but has since plunged to as little as 200,000 b/d.