U.S. special forces have seized a tanker that fled with a cargo of oil from a Libyan port controlled by anti-government rebels, halting their attempt to sell crude on the global market.
Gunmen demanding regional autonomy and a share of oil wealth had managed to load the ship, which escaped Libya’s navy and triggered a crisis that prompted parliament to sack the prime minister.
A U.S. SEAL commando team boarded the tanker Morning Glory from a Naval special warfare rigid inflatable boat as it sat in international waters off Cyprus on Sunday night.
The seizure was approved by President Barack Obama and requested by the Libyan and Cypriot governments, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said.
No one was hurt in the under two hour operation, and no shots fired. Two AK47 rifles were found and the three Libyans holding the ship remained in U.S. control, a U.S. defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The Morning Glory is carrying a cargo of oil owned by the Libyan government National Oil Company. The ship and its cargo were illicitly obtained” from the Libyan port of Es Sider, Kirby’s statement said.
The standoff over Libyan oil and the tanker debacle have deepened the chaos testing Tripoli since the civil war that toppled Muammar Gaddafi nearly three years ago.
With its army still nascent, a weak government has been unable to impose its will on former anti-Gaddafi fighters and militias who now use their military muscle to make demands on the state, often by targeting the vital oil sector.
At least in the short term, the tanker’s seizure by U.S. forces is likely to prevent any more attempted oil sales by the rebels.