By Sami Zaptia.
London, 9 June 2020:
A day after UNSMIL welcomed the reopening of Libya’s Sharara and El-Feel oilfields – the country’s state National Oil Corporation reported today that Sharara was forcibly closed by a group of militias. The National Oil Corporation (NOC) was forced to announce a force majeure on the Sharara field again – just three days after reopening it. At the time of publication, the El-Feel field was still open.
In its statement today, the NOC strongly condemned the ‘‘crime committed by an armed group on the evening of Monday, June 8, 2020. The armed group, which came from Sebha, stormed the Sharara oilfield and pulled their guns on civilian unarmed workers, coercing them to stop production at the field at dawn on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, only three days after production was resumed’’.
The NOC said it considers the acts of this armed group under the so-called Brigadier General Mohamed Khalifa, commander of the so-called Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) in the South, and Ahmed Ibrahim bin Nayel, to be a serious crime that amounts to treachery against the Libyan people and the national economy. (The PFG are a state military unit set up and paid by the Libyan state to guard the country’s oilfields on behalf of the Libyan public. Since the 2011 revolution that toppled Qaddafi – the various regional and ethnic PFG divisions have turned into self-interested militias).
It said that the shutdown of production will cost the treasury further losses and will lead to new technical damage. It also expresses its concern about the breach by this armed group of the strict Coronavirus pandemic control programme followed in all NOC facilities and considers their entry into the field in this way to be a serious threat to the health of workers.
NOC chairman, Mustafa Sanalla, said “This criminal group dared to enter the field with heavy weapons. It is clear that this criminal group places the interests of its commanders and the interests of the foreign powers tampering in Libya above the interest of the country. Instead of defending the country’s interest and protecting civilians, the members of this armed group have directed weapons against our loyal Libyan workers who are making tremendous efforts to try to prevent Libya from resorting to banks to borrow to feed its people.”
The NOC confirmed that it has informed the Public Prosecutor’s office of this crime and that it will take every possible measure to pursue these criminals at the local and international levels. It also expressed its total rejection of the presence of any armed personnel inside its facilities in all its sites, any interference in its work, and any attempts to use the Libyan people’s sustenance and only source of living as a political or military bargaining chip.
It will be recalled that it was only yesterday that the NOC had officially confirmed the resumption of oil production at El Feel oilfield on Sunday 7 June and confirmed the lifting of force majeure on crude oil exports from the Sharara and El Feel fields as of Sunday and Monday 7th and 8th June 2020 – respectively.
NOC chairman Sanalla had said that the “NOC will start crude oil export operations as soon as possible. I also confirm that crude oil is now reaching Zawiya refinery, which will resume its operations to produce fuel for domestic use. This will reduce pressure on the budget allocated to import fuel”.
“On behalf of NOC’s board of directors, I would like to thank all the corporation’s workers at fields for their exceptional efforts to restart production and carry out necessary maintenance works. We would also like to extend our sincere gratitude and appreciation to all the national voices that supported the corporation and to all the international parties that called for the restart of operations. We hope that production will be resumed at all Libyan fields in the nearest future”, he added.
The NOC had said that first production phase at El Feel field will start at a capacity of 12000 barrels/day. Production at the field is expected to return to full capacity within 14 days due to the damages caused by the very long shutdown.
Meanwhile, in its statement yesterday, UNSMIL had welcomed the opening of the Sharara and El Feel oil fields this weekend. ‘‘The oil blockade has needlessly cost the Libyan people over $5 billion due to lost oil sales as well as millions of dollars of indirect losses due to the shutdown of domestic refineries and damage caused by the oil infrastructure remaining idle. The blockade should be fully lifted across the country. Oil and other natural resources should not in any way, shape or form be instrumentalized as part of the conflict’’, it had said.
UNSMIL went on to say ‘‘As fighting escalates and encompasses more areas, UNSMIL calls on all parties to avoid damaging oil infrastructure or impeding National Oil Corporation (NOC) staff from conducting their official duties. The NOC is Libya’s sole and legitimate oil company. Libya’s natural resources belong to all Libyans and their exploitation is vital to maintain the country’s economy, particularly given the need to address the COVID-19 pandemic’’.
Addressing the purported and perceived economic grievance often used by various Libyans as justification for halting oil production, water and electricity flow since 2011, UNSMIL added that it ‘‘continues to work, including through the Economic Track of the Berlin process, to promote accountability, transparency, and effectiveness in the management of Libya’s economic and financial system and the equitable distribution of national revenue’’.