BENGHAZI, Libya/ATHENS, Jan 5 (Reuters) – A Libyan warplane from forces loyal to the internationally recognised government bombed a Greek-operated oil tanker anchored off the coast, killing two crewmen in an escalation of hostilities between factions vying to rule the country.
Military officials said the vessel had been warned not to enter port and said it had been transporting Islamist militants to Derna, the eastern port city where the ship was at anchor when it was hit on Sunday.
State oil firm NOC said it had leased the ship to carry fuel for power generation to Derna from Brega, an oil port to the west. The vessel was damaged but none of the 12,600 tonnes of heavy oil leaked out, the Athens-based operator Aegean Shipping Enterprises Co. said.
Greece condemned what it called the “unprovoked and cowardly” attack that killed one Greek and one Romanian crew member and wounded two others and said it had contacted the U.N. envoy for Libya and the European Union about the incident.
“The Greek government will take all the necessary actions towards Libyan authorities, despite the unrest, so that light is shed on the tragic incident, the attackers identified and punished and the families of the victims reimbursed,” it said.
The strike on the Liberian-flagged vessel ARAEVO was part of increasingly chaotic violence in Libya which has two parallel governments: the officially recognised one, which has been pushed out of the capital, and the one run by an armed group that seized Tripoli last summer.
Each side has appointed its own officials to run NOC and the oil ministry, leading to confusion over who controls what.
Fighting for control of oil assets has slashed Libya’s oil output to 380,000 barrels per day from the 1.6 million bpd produced before the violent ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Ahmed Bu Zayad Al-Mismari, a spokesman for the internationally recognised government’s general chief of staff, confirmed that one of it warplanes had struck the ship.
“The ports of Derna and Benghazi were closed, and we have cautioned all oil tankers not to get close to these ports,” he said, adding that the vessel had not informed officials of its destination and had not sought permission.
Since the war that ended Gaddafi’s four-decade rule, rival nationalist, Islamist, tribal and regionalist forces have battled for power. But the conflict has coalesced around two loosely aligned factions.
The government and parliament which have been pushed out of Tripoli to Tobruk, an eastern port town some 150 km (100 miles) from the Egyptian border, has allied itself with ex-rebel forces in Zintan, near Tripoli, and a former Gaddafi army general, Khalifa Haftar, who is conducting a campaign against Islamists.
Tripoli is now controlled by a self-declared government set up by forces allied to the city of Misrata, reinstating a former parliament and taking over ministries. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and George Georgiopoulos in Athens, Ulf Laessing in Cairo, writing by Deepa Babington and Patrick Markey; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Robin Pomeroy)
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