The Libyan government ordered its armed forces to fire upon an oil tanker that was docking at a port in rebel-controlled territory. The North Korean ship arrived at Libya's largest oil-export terminal Es Sider, in an attempt to purchase oil from Libyan rebels. Libya has been engulfed in a political crisis between its weak central government and rebel militias, which has slowed oil exports to a trickle. Oil production is down to 235,000 barrels per day compared to the 1.4 million bpd in mid-2013.
Rebel militias in control of key ports hoped to illegally sell oil to a North Korean ship. The Libyan government ordered the armed forces to fire upon the ship, but the military refused, citing concern over safety of civilians and the desire to avoid an environmental disaster. Still, the government has promised to blow up the ship if it tries to follow through with oil exports.
Libya's central government has struggled to consolidate power in the country after being torn apart during its revolution. Militias that battled Muammar Gaddafi have refused to submit to the central government. Some have declared their own independence from Tripoli. Exporting oil would be a big step for them and a major blow to the central government. In an effort to prevent breakaway territories from exporting oil, the government has promised to bomb any ships seeking to export oil from such areas. The Libyan navy fired upon a ship from Malta in January that attempted to load oil in Es Sider.
The U.S. government expressed support for the Libyan government and stated that any illegal exports not sanctioned by Libya's National Oil Corporation amounted to "theft" from the Libyan people. The oil belongs to a joint venture run by ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil, and Hess Corporation.
Written by Charles Kennedy at Oilprice.com.