A government based in eastern Libya has shipped its first cargo of crude in defiance of authorities in the capital Tripoli, a bold move that could deepen the divisions that have brought chaos since the 2011 NATO war.
The Tripoli authorities asked the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to blacklist the India-flagged tanker Distya Ameya, which left the eastern Libyan port of Hariga overnight carrying oil they said could not be lawfully sold.
The eastern government has set up its own National Oil Corporation (NOC) to act in parallel to the Tripoli-based NOC that is recognized internationally as the only legitimate seller of Libyan oil.
The tanker departed Hariga carrying 650,000 barrels of crude late on Monday bound for Malta, said Mohamed al-Manfi, a spokesman for the eastern NOC.
Maltese national TV said the ship was in international waters near Malta. The island’s Port Directorate said the tanker was not authorized to dock there and requests would be refused.
The ship last reported its position through the publicly available AIS tracking system earlier on Tuesday as still in Libyan waters.
Libya’s economy depends almost exclusively on oil export revenue and the fight over who controls those funds has driven chronic instability and civil war.
Parallel parliaments and governments have operated in Tripoli and the east since 2014. Much of the country is in the hands of dozens of armed groups loyal to one or other government, while small areas are controlled by Islamic State fighters.
Political division, labor disputes and security threats have reduced Libya’s oil output to less than a quarter of the 1.6 million barrels per day produced before the 2011 war.
A UN unity government has not yet been accepted by either of the alliances fighting for power.
The United Nations Security Council Libya sanctions committee blacklisted on Wednesday an Indian-flagged tanker carrying crude oil shipped by the rival eastern Libya government, said diplomats, which would prevent it from entering any ports.