Tripoli - Armed protesters controlling eastern Libyan ports will respond to any central government attempts to stop them selling oil independently after a North Korean-flagged tanker docked at one of the ports they hold, a leader said on Saturday.
Abb-Rabbo Albarassi, self-declared prime minister of Libya's eastern autonomy movement, said protesters had no plans for secession but demanded 15% of national oil sale revenues to go to their region.
He said the group would respect previous oil contracts, but demanded some of the deals be investigated for corruption.
Libya threatened on Saturday to bomb a North Korean-flagged tanker, which is suspected of trying to load an illegal cargo at the Al-Sidra oil terminal, if the vessel does not leave port.
Militants blockading the terminal in eastern Libya had been trying to load crude aboard the ship, a lawmaker said earlier, in the latest challenge to the government control of exports.
Deputy Defence Minister Khaled al-Sherif said a "crisis committee" made up of government officials and lawmakers had issued an ultimatum for the ship to leave Libyan territorial waters.
"If the ship doesn't comply, it will be bombed by the air force or intercepted at sea by the navy," Sherif said.
An MP and committee member said the deadline 14:00 (12:00 GMT) deadline had expired without any action being taken.
Earlier, a member of the energy committee in Libya's interim parliament, the General National Congress, said an "oil tanker, bearing the name Morning Glory, anchored on Saturday at 4:00 am (02:00 GMT) at the port of Al-Sidra."
Militants were trying to load a shipment of petroleum "outside the framework of the state", said the GNC member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Acting Oil Minister Omar Shakmak denounced the move as an "act of piracy".
"This is a violation of national sovereignty. It is up to the defence ministry to deal with this ship," he said, without elaborating.
The latest crisis erupted in July, when security guards at key oil terminals shut them down, accusing the authorities of corruption and demanding a more equitable distribution of oil revenues.
In January, the navy prevented two tankers docking in Al-Sidra to take on crude. The government even threatened to bomb any ships attempting to dock without permission from the National Oil Corporation.
Following the blockade, production plunged to around 250 000 barrels per day from 1.5 million bpd, and the economy ministry estimated the treasury has lost more than $9bn in revenue.
Production has since recovered to 546 000 bpd, but the crisis has taken its toll.