Benghazi — The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Wednesday (March 19th) to impose sanctions on illegal exports of Libyan oil.
The move came just two days after the US Navy, at the request of Tripoli authorities, boarded rogue tanker Morning Glory in international waters off Cyprus. The tanker, loaded with illegally obtained crude oil, had slipped through a Libyan naval blockade after leaving the port of Sidra.
The Libyan interim government on Monday issued a statement thanking US troops and praising the co-operation of all partners who participated in the mission to enforce international law.
"Oil is the lifeblood of the national economy and any attack on the treasures of the Libyan people is unacceptable and cannot go without a response," the government said.
Even North Korea denounced the illicit oil scheme, saying in a statement through its state news agency that it had "nothing to do with" the ship and had "no responsibility whatsoever". The country also cancelled the tanker's registry.
But separatist leader Ibrahim Jadhran, whose forces loaded the tanker and continue to occupy eastern oil facilities, spoke out on Libyan local TV Tuesday to blast the international enforcement action as "piracy".
The Cyrenaica federalist leader also pleaded with the Arab League and other international institutions to stand with the rebel movement, which seeks autonomy for Libya's three regions.
However, Libyans interviewed by Magharebia were sharply critical of moves by independent militias to exploit the country's natural wealth.
"Basically it is the tanker that committed an act of piracy on Libyan territory," commented Abdel Hamid Kabta, a 44-year-old professor and director of the Riwaq Centre for Education, Training and Human Development.
"Jadhran and his armed associates committed a robbery on Libyan ports while nobody has chosen them for this work or delegated it to them. The entry of the tanker via their ports is a theft and piracy on Libyan assets," he said.
He also noted that the US Navy had intervened at the request of the government and "returned the tanker to Libyan authorities".
"The pirates are the ones who seized the oil fields by force for political gains! They have distorted federalism although it could have been an administrative way of governing the country," the professor said.
Journalist Suleiman Abu Ezza took a similar stance, saying the vessel was exporting oil illegally. He added that the Cyrenaica council was unrecognised internationally and "its method of selling oil also came through the use of threat and the force of arms".
"What America has done is not piracy because it was in accordance with international controls to prevent such cases," Abu Ezza said.
Political analyst Moataz Majbri pointed out that the operation came on the heels of a request from Libya and Cyprus.
"This means that the procedure took place properly and according to international norms, especially that there was an arrest warrant against the vessel from the Libyan attorney general. The carrier was also illegitimate, in addition to the fact that all states denied ownership of the oil tanker, making the arrest procedure easier," he said.
Rabia Saad, a 37-year-old journalist for Libyan al-Maraa magazine, said, "Frankly, this is a brilliant move from America. I thank them for they moved while we bleed because some were thinking about oil and how to sell it. God is on the lookout."
"I agree with the move made by America to stop the militias from stealing oil," remarked businessman Abdel Razek Al-Bargathe, 49.
Public sector employee Mona Abdel-Hafiz said, "What the US did was a legal action at the request of Libya and falls within the international community's support for Libya".
"Oil sales outside the jurisdiction of the state are considered theft; the world should fight this smuggling and robbery. What America has done falls in the category of crime fighting," she said.