NOC fails to force unblocking of oil exports at Es Sider port, thwarted by its own Petroleum Facilities Guards
By Sami Zaptia.
London, 8 July 2020:
Libya’s state National Oil Corporation announced today that it had failed in its attempt to force the resumption of oil exports from its Es Sider port. It conceded that its Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) at Es Sider oil port prevented a NOC tanker from loading at the port.
The NOC had gambled that domestic and international glare and pressure would force a breakthrough. However, the local PFG at Es Sider would not budge and stayed loyal to Khalifa Hafter, local tribal ties and the eastern perception that any oil money that goes to Tripoli is likely to be squandered and the east would not get its fair share of it.
It will be recalled that the NOC had telegraphed the move through an earlier announcement and had secured international support for the move through its meeting at the Economic Working Group of the International Follow-up Committee on Libya on 6 July. The Economic Working Group of the International Follow-up Committee on Libya is part of the ongoing outcomes of the Berlin process.
The Economic Working Group of the International Follow-up Committee had reiterated its full support for the NOC ‘‘as it lifts force majeure nationwide and resumes its vital work on behalf of all Libyans’’.
It also reported that the working group welcomed Sanalla’s presentation on technical steps to restore NOC operations, prevent further degradation of critical infrastructure, ensure the safety of NOC personnel and facilities, and ensure that revenues are not misappropriated, in cooperation with UNSMIL.
UNSMIL had said participants at the meeting welcomed this positive vision and encouraged all Libyan parties to facilitate NOC operations. Allowing the NOC to resume its vital work, on the basis of transparency and a firm commitment to ensure no illicit use of revenues, will create the conditions for a common understanding among Libyans on an equitable distribution of oil and gas revenues, it added. In this spirit, the working group called on UNSMIL to intensify its work through the Berlin economic track to support such a Libyan consensus and promote financial transparency.
In its statement today, the NOC said that it had ‘‘today attempted a technical process to load the very large crude oil tanker Delta Ocean at Es Sider oil port. Regrettably, the Petroleum Facilities Guard did not allow the tanker to enter the port’’.
It will be recalled that the PFG is a state security apparatus set up and still paid by the state to ostensibly guard Libya’s oil assets. However, they have become a militia representing their own militia, political, local, tribal, or ethnic interests.
The NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla went on to say that the NOC ‘‘is ready to restart oil exports immediately. NOC reaffirms its call for all Libyan parties to facilitate its work, in line with the clear Libyan and international consensus that the NOC should lift force majeure and resume its vital mission. The NOC is consulting with all parties to find a way forward that will ensure the safety of NOC facilities and personnel”.
The move to break Libya’s oil blockade since January may have misunderstood or underestimated the depth of feeling in eastern Libya. Sanalla has attempted to frame the oil blockade in technical and technocratic terms.
However, in the east many would rather the oil stayed underground than its revenues arrive at the Tripoli Central Bank of Libya which through its cutting off of the bank settlement system with the east and refusal to send liquidity to the east – is strangelling the east and threatening to collapse all of Libya’s banking system.
For the east, the issue has become an existential issue – well beyond the cost of lost revenues or the degradation of Libya’s oil infrastructure.