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Oil Tankers Dawdle Off Libya’s Coast as Warlord Halts Exports

Oil Tankers Queue off Libya

Bloomberg, January 23, 2020

Ships sit idle as General Haftar blockades oil ports. Ten tankers wait to load as political impasse persists

By Grant Smith and Julian Lee

Off the coast of Libya, one man is holding up several million tons of steel.

Khalifa Haftar, the military leader who controls critical parts of the North African oil producer, ordered the closure of its ports and key oil fields at the weekend while haggling over a truce with the national government.

Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar wearing military uniform
Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar

As he rebuffs pressure from world leaders to reach a settlement, a line of oil tankers waiting to load is forming at Libya’s idle ports. Crude exports that would typically exceed 1 million barrels a day have ground to a halt.

READ: Army forces closure of eastern oil ports in Libya

Ten ships able to carry about 8 million barrels are floating in the country’s waters, mostly around the key terminals of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, according to tanker tracking monitored by Bloomberg.

Libya primarily ships to Europe, though cargoes can go to the U.S. and China, and refiners prize its low-density, high-quality crude for the ease of processing it into fuels like gasoline.

Although it’s the biggest supply disruption since a missile strike briefly disabled half of Saudi Arabia’s oil capacity in September, crude markets have shown a surprising level of indifference to the Libyan crisis.

READ: Libyan National Army seizes GRIMALDI car carrier and sails it to Benghazi

Consumers remain comfortably supplied by a wave of new production ranging from the U.S. shale patch to Guyana, and traders are increasingly focused on whether demand will hold up in a deeply uncertain macroeconomic climate.

Besides, refiners have grown accustomed to erratic output from Libya, where political conflict since the fall of Muammar Gadaffi has knocked out about 40% of capacity for most of the last decade.

Markets could soon take notice if the disruption drags on, however, according to Amrita Sen, chief analyst at consultants Energy Aspects Ltd. in London.

As the snarl of ships in Libya’s waters shows no signs of moving, that moment may be getting closer.


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