By Heba Saleh and Anjli Raval
The Tripoli-based administration said late on Tuesday that an allied force called the Petroleum Facilities Guard was now in control of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf ports.
The Benghazi Defence Brigade, a militia, had seized the facilities on Friday but had handed them over to the faction loyal to the government.
An escalating conflict over the ports has triggered concerns that recent increases in Libya’s oil production are at risk of being reversed.
The fighting is also undermining efforts by the UN and Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria to mediate between the government in Tripoli and General Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman who controls swaths of eastern Libya. Gen Haftar’s forces took control of the ports in September, but were driven out of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf on Friday.
He is reported to be preparing a ground offensive in a bid to retake them amid fears that the country is sliding towards full-scale civil war.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Haftar conducted a counteroffensive,” said Mattia Toaldo, senior analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Libya has been plagued by violence and factionalism since the uprising against Muammer Gaddafi erupted in 2011, with rival groups governing in the east and west.
The government suffered a blow on Tuesday when the pro-Haftar parliament in eastern Libya voted to withdraw its support for the UN deal agreed that led to the establishment of the Tripoli administration.
Mediators were hoping to amend the agreement in a way that would bring in Gen Haftar, who has spurned civilian rule. But Abdullah Ablaihig, spokesman for the parliament, said the Tripoli government was “not legitimate any more” and urged the international community to lift an arms embargo on weapons sales to Mr Haftar’s forces.
When the renegade general’s forces were in control of the ports he allowed facilities to be repaired and the resumption of exports. As a result, Libya’s output more than doubled to 700,000 barrels per day.
Libya’s National Oil Corporation says that production has dropped slightly by 35,000 barrels a day because of the recent clashes.
Idris Bukhamada, the commander of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, told a Libyan television channel that exports were continuing from the ports.
But Reuters reported that the Overseas Redwood tanker, chartered by Austria’s OMV oil company, had cancelled its call on the Es Sider port and may call on the western Zawia terminal instead.
Heba Saleh – Cairo and North Africa Correspondent of the Financial Times.
Anjli Raval – Financial Times Oil & Gas Correspondent.