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Restart of crude oil exports from Libya's Ras Lanuf port in doubt after threat

London — * Petroleum guards say vessels would be impounded
* Two tankers seen headed for 220,000 b/d port
* Force majeure at Ras Lanuf lifted July 2

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Libya's hopes of resuming crude exports from its third-largest port Ras Lanuf may have been dashed after guards that protect the facility said they would not allow any vessel to dock there.

State-owned NOC lifted the force majeure on crude loadings at Ras Lanuf -- which had been in place since December -- on July 2, theoretically allowing for exports to resume from the 220,000 b/d capacity terminal.


NOC said it had been able to lift the restriction after a "substantial improvement" in the security situation in the area.

However, the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) said Wednesday that it would impound any vessel that arrived at Ras Lanuf to load oil, according to local newspaper the Libya Herald.

Platts' vessel tracking software cFlow shows that two tankers are currently headed towards Ras Lanuf, with both the Minerva Alexandra and Trident Hope expected to arrive within the next 24 hours.

REAL THREAT

The threat to impound the vessels comes as Libya's two rival governments continue to claim control of the North African country.

State-owned oil firm NOC has remained politically independent, but both the Islamist-led General National Congress in Tripoli and the Tobruk-based, officially recognized government in the east believe they should control the country's oil sector.

The Tobruk administration has said before that it would prevent loadings of crude from the east that it had not authorized, and its forces have attacked vessels before -- in January a government fighter jet bombed an oil tanker off the port of Derna that it said was acting suspiciously.

The eastern government has also set up its own NOC, which it believes should take control of all of Libya's oil exports from the start of 2016.

There has also been concern in recent weeks that militants from the Islamic State group were closing in on both the Ras Lanuf and Es Sider export terminals.

The larger 340,000 b/d Es Sider terminal has also been affected by fighting between troops of the two rival administrations.

NOC chief Mustafa Sanalla told Platts last month that the security situation in the so-called "oil crescent" -- the region around the two key ports -- remained "fragile."

OIL OUTPUT

With the situation in Libya as cloudy as ever, its oil sector continues to struggle.

Libyan output has been languishing at less than one third of its 1.5 million b/d capacity for several months -- the most recent production figure is some 430,000 b/d -- due to security issues and other technical constraints.

The lifting of the force majeure at Ras Lanuf has been seen as the second piece of good news for Libya after an agreement was signed in late June with tribal leaders in western Libya allowing for a key oil pipeline in the area to resume operations.

However, there has been no sign of a resumption of flows yet from the major Sharara and Elephant (El Feel) fields.

--Stuart Elliott, stuart.elliott@platts.com
--Paula VanLaningham, paula.vanlaningham@platts.com
--Edited by Alisdair Bowles, alisdair.bowles@platts.com