Libyan Oil Stolen at Sidra
Sadly, one of the most feared events heralding further collapse of the Libyan state has taken place. A North Korean oil tanker has actually docked at Sidra, one of the Eastern oil ports held by armed federalists, and loaded a cargo of 350,000 barrels of crude oil, leading the group one step closer to selling the oil and stealing the proceeds away from the rest of the country where it could easily be siphoned into the personal pockets of protest leader Ibrahim Jadhran.
As we wrote on 6 March for the latest issue of RUSI Newsbrief:
“[I]f eastern federalists aligned with Ibrahim Jadhran were able to secure international recognition for a Cyrenaican autonomous region, or managed to sell their oil on the open (global) market without government permission, the federalist menace would be immeasurably strengthened. The government would then be faced with the options of accepting the de facto partition of the country or re-igniting a hot war to reclaim the oilfields. Even worse, Jadhran’s successes could inspire other armed ‘warlords’ to imitate him by seizing territory. In this scenario, Libya’s myriad militia groups would initiate a carve-up of the national patrimony.”
Why was no military action taken to prevent this tanker from docking when a Maltese-flagged tanker was successfully prevented from docking at Sidra by the Libyan Navy in January? The answer may worryingly lie in the political infighting between the GNC and Prime Minister that have plagued the country for months. According to the Libya Herald:
“This evening, Zeidan said that the Army Chief of Staff refused to take orders from him or the Ministry of Defence and would only answer to the GNC and Commander-in-Chief – a role temporarily occupied by GNC head Nuri Abu Sahmain. This does not explain why no action has yet been taken, however, as Gajam said this afternoon that the General Chief of Staff, Abdulsalam Al-Obaidi, had been instructed to take the necessary action to deal with the ship as an illegal target.”
The government response, too little too late, has been to threaten to attack the already-loaded tanker, but ending up between a rock and a hard place. While it would be disastrous politically to allow the tanker to leave, it would be an environmental disaster if the oil from the damaged ship spilled into the harbor.