International

Navy SEALs seize oil tanker from Libyan rebels

North Korean–flagged Morning Glory, with $20 million cargo, captured in waters off the coast of Cyprus

The Brega refinery, on Libya's Gulf of Sidra, where the tanker was illegally loaded with oil, on March 11, 2014.
Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Navy SEALs have boarded and taken control of an oil tanker that sailed out of a Libyan port earlier this month with armed men at the helm, the Pentagon said.

Libyan anti-government fighters, who are calling for a greater share of oil wealth and autonomy, managed to load crude oil onto the 37,000-ton tanker, embarrassing the country’s weak central government and prompting parliament to vote Prime Minister Ali Zeidan out of office last week.

No one was hurt in the SEALs' boarding operation, which was approved by U.S. President Barack Obama, requested by the Libyan and Cypriot governments and conducted late Sunday in international waters southeast of Cyprus, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

"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 al-Sidra, Kirby’s statement said.

The Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the North Korean–flagged vessel is heading west in the Mediterranean with a U.S. military escort. It was about 18 miles southwest of Cyprus when the operation occurred around midnight Cyprus time.

The Defense Department was unable to confirm for Al Jazeera at the time of publication that the tanker was indeed from North Korea.

The standoff over control of Libya's oil is one facet of wider turmoil that has engulfed the vast North African country since the fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi nearly three years ago.

The government and nascent army have struggled to control brigades of what are believed to be former anti-Gaddafi fighters who have refused to disarm and have used their military muscle to make political demands on the state, often by targeting the vital oil sector. 

In the latest outbreak of violence, a powerful car bomb attack targeted a military academy in the city of Benghazi on Monday, killing at least eight people and wounding more than a dozen, hospital and security officials said.

Hours later, an additional car bomb detonated near a state-run oil firm, killing one person, a security source said.

No group claimed responsibility for the bombings in Benghazi, but the government called the academy bombing a "terrorist act" and declared three days of mourning, according to a statement. 

Political chaos has stymied oil production in the North African nation, all but freezing the national economy and forcing the government to tap into reserves to pay public servants, Boston-based North African affairs analyst Arezki Daoud told Al Jazeera just after Zeidan's ouster last week.

Amid mounting chaos, oil production has seen a major decline to 230,000 barrels per day, from 1.4 million barrels per day in July.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter