Early Sunday morning, a Navy SEAL team boarded the tanker Morning Glory off the coast of Cyprus, at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriot governments. Three Libyans and two AK-47 rifles were taken into custody, without any shots being fired.
Why would SEALs seize this tanker? Because it was carrying illegal oil from Libya.
How can oil from Libya be illegal? Because Libya remains an unholy disaster – the Obama foreign policy “triumph” his loyal media never, ever talks about. The Morning Glory loaded up at the port of Sidra, which is currently under the control of anti-government militia forces. That control isn’t likely to end any time soon, since it doesn’t look like the nominal Libyan government has the firepower to dislodge the rebels. There was a bit of shooting when the outlaw tanker weighed anchor, with Tripoli insisting that it had the situation in hand… right up until they asked for help from the U.S. Navy. Apparently at one point the Libyan government was thinking about trying to blow the ship out of the water.
Reuters summarizes the situation:
The standoff over Libyan oil and the tanker debacle have deepened the chaos testing Tripoli since the civil war that toppled Muammar Gaddafi nearly three years ago.
With its army still nascent, a weak government has been unable to impose its will on former anti-Gaddafi fighters and militias who now use their military muscle to make demands on the state, often by targeting the vital oil sector.
At least in the short term, the tanker’s seizure by U.S. forces is likely to prevent any more attempted oil sales by the rebels, who in August took control of three export terminals accounting previously for 700,000 barrels a day of exports.
“Oil is the economy’s artery. The government will not allow anyone to fool around with the assets and resources of the Libyan people,” the Libyan government said in a statement.
Reuters doesn’t elaborate on why this was a “debacle,” since the US Navy was able to secure the ship, but it’s because the ship managed to get into international waters with such a valuable illicit cargo. The Libyan prime minister actually got booted out of office by his Parliament due to his poor handling of the situation.
The New York Times notes this little adventure “threatened to uncork” captive oil reserves by “enabling a militia that has blockaded Libya???s major oil ports for the last eight months to begin selling the oil on its own, independent of the state.” The State Department noted that “several American companies also have stakes in the oil.”
Who were these militia guys planning to sell their oil to? One clue is that the Morning Glory was flying the flag of that most upstanding citizen of the global community, North Korea. Reuters says the Norks are cutting their losses and denying involvement with the oil heist:
The Morning Glory had been North Korean-flagged, but the government in Pyongyang on Thursday said it had notified Libya and maritime authorities that it had severed all ties with the ship because of the vessel’s contraband cargo.
So Se Pyong, North Korea’s ambassador in Geneva, said on Monday he discussed the situation with his Libyan counterpart to explain, but not apologize for the situation.
He said North Korea did not buy oil from Libyan rebels, and since the Egyptian-based shipping firm had acting illegally he was not concerned about the U.S. Navy seizure.
“Whether it was captured by the Americans, or by someone else, if that ship was doing something wrong, then we don’t care,” So told Reuters.
Further muddying the waters, Cypriot authorities detained and questioned two Israelis and a man from Senegal for rather suspiciously flying a Learjet into Cyprus, renting a boat, and trying to sail out to the tanker. They were released without charges, and reportedly headed back for Tel Aviv.
The New York Times adds that the Morning Glory is actually “owned by a company based in the United Arab Emirates, but operated by a company based in Saudi Arabia.” The rest of the crew described the three Libyans taken into custody as hijackers.
This caper is like “Murder on the Orient Express”: everybody did it.
There are hopes that the Libyan rebels might conclude they have no way to sell their captured oil, and adjust their long-term plans accordingly, although it might still take some wheeling and dealing to get them to reopen the ports. The New York Times offers a look at the top militia commander, Ibrahim Jathran:
Mr. Jathran, a former rebel who fought against Colonel Qaddafi, was initially named to lead a force protecting the oil infrastructure. He has since allied himself with the so-called federalist movement demanding more power, autonomy and oil revenue for the nation???s eastern region, which contains most of Libya???s reserves. He has refused to reopen the ports until the central government agrees to investigate allegations of corruption in its oil sales and give the east a larger cut of the proceeds.
America???s willingness to foil his illicit exports goes a long way to level the balance of power. The government in Tripoli has been unable to force Mr. Jathran to reopen the ports or allow the official sale of the oil. Now, he appears unable to sell the oil on his own, returning both sides to a stalemate ??? with the oil remaining in place.
Meanwhile, Monday brought a string of car bombings that killed at least eight people at a military academy graduation in good old Benghazi, which Team Obama used to think of as such a quiet little town. The perpetrators are a different group of militants who don’t like Jathran and his would-be oil tycoons. It’s definitely best for Obama supporters not to think about what’s been happening in Libya.