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Tanker owner says Libyan navy threatened ship in international waters
The owner of the oil tanker driven away from a protestor-controlled port by the Libyan navy said on Tuesday that its vessel had been sailing in international waters, and denied it was involved in trying to smuggle crude oil out of the country.
Istanbul-based shipping firm Palmali, which owns a small fleet of oil tankers in the Mediterranean, said it had ordered the ship’s charterer to remain in international waters after it learned it was trying to sail to the Libyan port of Es Sider.
Libyan officials have said the navy fired warning shots near the Maltese-flagged tanker, Baku, on Sunday, saying it tried to breach its blockade of eastern ports.
The Libyan government has vowed to prevent protestors from shipping oil to world markets independently of Tripoli, declaring such exports illegal. Strikes and protests at Libyan oil ports have been running for the last six months, reducing government income to a trickle, and stoking a potential budget crisis.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Palmali said the Libyan authorities had shown “total disrespect” for the rule of international order, and that the navy had tried to corral its tanker towards a government-controlled port.
Palmali said a Libyan naval vessel had fired warning shots after it had provided written confirmation to the Libyan National Oil Company (NOC) that it was no longer attempting to sail to Es Sider.
“The Libyan naval vessel continued to circle our vessel threateningly and even fired two shots in an attempt to push our vessel in the direction of Misurata (Misrata). At this point our vessel’s master decided to sail towards Malta at full speed to avoid further illegal intimidation by the Libyan naval forces and a possible escalation.
“It is stressed that these unfortunate incidents occurred in international waters with manifest and total disrespect by the Libyan authorities for the rule of international order,” Palmali said in a statement.
Palmali declined to say who had chartered the ship when contacted by Reuters, but said it would release the information to regulator Transport Malta in the coming days.
Officials for the Libyan NOC and military were not immediately available to comment on the statement from Palmali.
On Monday one Libyan NOC official said the tanker had been chartered by a company called Royal Asset Management.
When contacted by Reuters, a Switzerland-based company called Royal Asset Management said it had nothing to do with the incident.
Reuters was not able to find other companies called Royal Asset Management involved in oil trading. The NOC official did not say in which country Royal Asset Management was based.
Reuters AIS Live ship tracking showed that the Baku tanker has returned to Malta since the weekend, and is now at anchor.
Libya’s oil exports, which account for practically all the government’s annual revenue of around $50 billion, have fallen from more than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in July, when the strikes began, to less than 125,000 bpd at the start of this year.
Output has recovered to around 400,000 bpd in recent days, NOC officials say, but the government is still struggling to end the six-month long blockade of key eastern ports.
On Tuesday, the self-declared pro-autonomy government in the east of Libya sent a letter to oil traders saying it would ensure the safety of tankers coming to Es Sider port.
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