Libya Zueitina port needs calm to resume oil export

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 12:21 PM
Libya Zueitina port needs calm to resume oil export

By Mohammed Abbas

ZUEITINA, Libya (Reuters) - The east Libya oil terminal of Zueitina, back in rebel hands after a battle with government forces, has not exported crude for almost two weeks and will not resume until calm returns, an engineer said on Monday.

Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi attacked the port on Thursday as they advanced along the coastline retaking towns held by rebels after a protests against the Libyan leader's rule erupted in mid-February. On Monday it was back in rebel hands.

With Zueitina back in their control, rebels now hold two of Libya's six major terminals. The other they hold is Tobruk.

Some 214,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil were shipped from Zueitina terminal in January, the International Energy Agency said. The port is also a base for Zueitina Oil Company, in which Occidental Petroleum Corp has a 49 percent stake.

Engineers, speaking at the port, said basic oil infrastructure facilities at the terminal, about 125 km (80 miles) south of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, had not been damaged by the fighting but crude exports were halted.

"We have not been exporting crude for at least 10 to 12 days. We have stopped taking crude until things calm down. Also no boats will come until things calm down," engineer Saleh Younis told Reuters.

Fuel had been sent by trucks to Benghazi until about four days ago when it stopped.

"The basic oil infrastructure has not been affected," said Younis. This was confirmed by a second engineer.

DEBRIS FROM THE BATTLE

A fuel tank of a power plant in the area was hit during fighting and firefighters were still trying to extinguish it on Monday, pouring foam onto the flames, a Reuters correspondent saw.

One engineer, Salem Mohammed, said they had been threatened by Gaddafi's forces when they entered the oil port. On the road leading to the terminal were two destroyed tanks and several destroyed cars, debris from the battle for the town and port.

"When Gaddafi's forces came, they threatened to kill us if we moved. They took our mobile phones and took control of buildings here," Mohammed said.

Until Western forces backed by a U.N. mandate launched air strikes on Libya on Saturday, rebels had been steadily pushed out of a string of oil towns along the coast, namely Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Brega and then Zueitina.

Rebel forces reliant on 4x4 pick-ups mounted with heavy machine guns and mostly light weaponry had been overwhelmed by a land, sea and air offensive mounted by forces loyal to the Libyan leader. Air strikes reversed the government's advance.

According to its website, the production of Zueitina Oil Company is usually 58,000 bpd, in addition to 12,000 bpd the firm produces from its share in Nafoura Unit, Ojla. It also manufactures 24,000 bpd through gas condensers.

Under normal conditions, OPEC member Libya is the world's 17th-largest oil producer, third-largest producer in Africa and holds the continent's largest crude oil reserves.

It normally pumps around 1.6 million bpd, 85 percent of which is exported to Europe. Production has tumbled since the rebellion against Gaddafi's rule erupted.

(Writing by Edmund Blair in Cairo)