Libya’s prime minister threatened Saturday night to bomb a North Korean-flagged ship that had entered a rebel-held oil port, calling the ship’s arrival there a “violation of international law.”
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said if the ship does not follow orders, “it will be bombed and this could lead to an environmental disaster.”
The vessel, dubbed Morning Glory, docked late Friday night in the oil port of As-Sidra. Zeidan said the ship’s captain subsequently was warned by phone, though the captain responded that local militia on board did not allow them to depart.
Libyan government officials spoke with diplomats at North Korea’s embassy in Tripoli, Zeidan said. He added that information showed a “Gulf nation” owned the ship and that it is registered in North Korea. A spokesman for Libya’s National Oil Corporation indicated the tanker was Saudi owned, but Saudi Arabia’s embassy released a statement saying it had nothing to do with the ship.
In addition, an arrest warrant has been issued for the oil tanker’s captain and “the use of armed force, as necessary,” has been authorized, according to Zeidan.
The situation speaks to the unsettled situation in the North African nation, which the government is struggling to control more than two years after the ouster of longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
In this case, the issue centers around the oil-rich eastern part of the country and one man in particular, Ibrahim Jadran. The militia leader was entrusted by the government to safeguard crucial oil ports. But last July, Jadran and his men seized them, blocking oil exports, and demanded more autonomy and shared revenues for his eastern region.
“We used to be part of that government until the corruption became so visible, and the government started to sell oil without measuring units, and after we became certain that such a government is not credible and unable to rebuild the state,” the 32-year-old Jadran told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in January. “That’s why we declared independence of our province and we started to seek our fair rights.”
There is a lot at stake, given the Libyan government’s precarious state and the wealth of natural resources in the country. Libya is thought to have Africa’s largest proven oil reserves. The country produced 1.6 million barrels per day after the revolution only to have that output slow to a relative trickle of fewer than 200,000 barrels per day by the end of last year.
The government has said the disrupted oil production, from seizures of ports as well as protests and strikes at other oil facilities, is costing the country $130 million a day.
Saturday night’s threat against the North Korean-flagged vessel isn’t the first time Libya’s government has threatened force against ships that enter the eastern oil ports.
On several occasions, authorities have issued ultimatums to such ships, only to have those deadlines come and go with no action.