Tripoli/London - Libya was forced to suspend contractual
obligations with a force majeure on some oil exports on Monday, acknowledging
weeks of disruption which has cut shipments to their lowest since the civil war
Yet the reopening of the Marsa al Hariga oil port - if it
holds - may also show the first fracturing of strikes.
The intervention from a new leader of the oil security body
that protects installations, the removal of a protest leader who had threatened
to sell oil himself and some port workers rejecting further disruption, could
be the first faint signs of a turn in the tide.
Oil traders remained sceptical the chaos will end soon.
About half of Libya's over 1.2 million barrel per day export
capacity remains shut down, industry sources said.
The crisis hit a peak at the end of last week when the
government threatened military action should striking security guards at Es
Sider, Libya's largest terminal, sell oil independently.
Marsa al Hariga resumed full operations and is ready to
export following strikes, an oil ministry spokesperson said on Monday.
The 110 000-barrel-per-day (bpd) port has been mostly shut
for the last three weeks due to worker protests, including employees of
operator Arabian Gulf Oil Co, with only some fuel shipments for domestic use
leaving the terminal.
It was not immediately possible to reach Arabian Gulf Oil Co
who participated in closing the oilfields, which feed the port and Libya's
"We need to see a vessel berth and load," one
trader said, who has a tanker waiting nearby.
Force majeure was declared on crude oil and oil product
exports from their Zueitina, Marsa al Brega, Ras Lanuf and Es Sider terminals,
a Libya National Oil Corp document showed.
Divisions among port workers
But the striking guards were under mounting pressure from
colleagues at other local ports, several Libyan sources said, and there were no
signs they have gained wider support to sell oil independently.
A new chairperson of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG),
many of whose members are striking, has taken the lead in negotiations.
Edris Abokhamada became head of the PFG at the start of
August, replacing Rasheed Al Sabri.
"[Edris] succeeded to defuse the strike at Tobruk and
Marsa al Hariga and now he's working on Zueitina," one senior Libyan oil
official told Reuters.
The loyalty of the PFG heads and disunity among oil workers
in the east is leaving the leader of the Es Sider and Ras Lanuf protest
somewhat isolated, sources said.
"We received a letter from employees at the Brega port
saying they are against the port closures and will work under the
government," a PFG spokesperson said.
The government said last week that Ibrahim al-Jathran, head
of the middle region for the PFG, was seeking to sell oil for the benefit of
his group of striking oil workers.
"Ibrahim has been removed from his position by the
chief of staff," the spokesperson added, and said he expected the other
ports to reopen soon.
"The idea of some workers coming out against the
protests is interesting, as it shows there isn't a completely unified position
supporting the closure, but that could easily lead to more disputes and
divisions rather than speed up the reopening process," said Richard
Mallinson, chief policy analyst at Energy Aspects.
The PFG operates under the Defence Ministry to protect oil
installations, but only about 2 000 of its 15 000 members have had training
from the military.
Es Sider has around eight crude oil tankers waiting to load
Trading sources and employees at Es Sider said there was one
tanker, A Whale, waiting outside that was unaccounted for and market sources
did not know who had chartered it. Oil sources in Libya speculated the ship may
be linked to attempts to sell oil independently.
"We are calling the tanker, but we are not able to
reach the captain," one of the port workers said.
Libyan authorities increased their profile at Es Sider. A
Libyan Coast Guard vessel, the Toukra Tess, entered the port on Saturday,
maritime analytics firm WindWard said.