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US hands rogue oil tanker back to Libya

23 March 2014, 07:01

Tripoli - The US Navy handed over to Libyan authorities on Saturday an oil tanker it boarded after the vessel took to sea with crude illegally loaded at a rebel-held port, the American embassy said.

"Earlier today, US forces turned control of the M/T Morning Glory over to the government of Libya," a statement said.

"The handover took place in international waters off the coast of Libya, and the government of Libya and its security forces are now in control of the vessel."

The embassy said the transfer of the Egyptian-owned tanker had taken place "smoothly and as planned," with the US and Libya in close co-operation.

"We have been assured by the government of Libya that the captain, crew members and Libyan nationals who were aboard the stateless tanker will be treated humanely in accordance with internationally recognised standards of human rights," it said.

US navy Seals captured the Morning Glory off Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean on Monday.

The weak Tripoli government's failure to halt the tanker had plunged Libya into one of its biggest crises since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled by a Nato-backed uprising in 2011.

No one was hurt when US forces, at the request of both Libya and Cyprus, "boarded and took control" of the tanker operated by three armed Libyans, the Pentagon said.

Slipping through blockade

Last week, the Morning Glory slipped through a Libyan naval blockade off the eastern port of Al-Sidra - controlled by rebels seeking autonomy from Tripoli - after reportedly being loaded with some 234 000 barrels of crude.

Its escape after Libyan authorities had repeatedly vowed to take all measures to stop it underscored the weakness of the central government, which has struggled to rein in heavily armed former rebels from the 2011 revolt.

Rebels pressing for autonomy for Libya's eastern Cyrenaica region - epicentre of the revolt against Gaddafi - have been blockading eastern oil terminals since July. That has led to a decline in exports from 1.5 million barrels a day to just 250 000.

The Morning Glory incident marked a major escalation and triggered the ouster of liberal-backed prime minister Ali Zeidan.

The Morning Glory was originally a North Korean-flagged ship, but Pyongyang said it had "cancelled and deleted" its registry on the grounds it was carrying contraband material.

The US has viewed the chaos in Libya with growing alarm since an attack on its consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi in September 2012 that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.



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