U.N. Security Council considers sanctions against vessel carrying crude from East Libya

The United Nations Security Council is considering sanctions on the first oil tanker to load crude petroleum sold by the government ruling Libya’s eastern half, diplomats familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

The oil sale could create a lucrative revenue stream to Libya’s eastern factions at an awkward moment for the fragile peace process.

Libya has fractured along sectarian and geographic lines since the 2011 ouster and death of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, with the country splitting between two governments in the east and west that have sometimes been in violent conflict. A U.N.-backed unity government has taken power in Tripoli, though the eastern government doesn’t recognize it.

The U.N. measure being considered would impose current U.N. sanctions against selling Libyan oil outside legal channels directly onto a vessel that bought crude oil from the eastern government and set sail for Malta on Monday, the diplomats said.

“It’s under discussions,” Libya’s U.N. envoy, Ibrahim Dabbashi, told The Wall Street Journal.

A vote could take place as early as Wednesday, the diplomats said. A U.N. press official in New York declined to comment.

The U.N. imposed an array of sanctions on Libya to stop the flows of arms and finance to Gadhafi during a civil war and kept restrictions in place during an uncertain transition after his death and the emergence of a new conflict.

By Libyan law, all crude oil and petroleum products must be sold via the internationally recognized National Oil Co., which has been deemed independent of the various militias that rule the North African nation but is based in the western capital of Tripoli.

Complicating matters is that the eastern government once had international recognition from the U.N. and created its own state oil company. It has tried several times to export crude, but until now it had trouble finding shippers and buyers amid fears of legal action by the traditional National Oil Co.

The first shipment to leave Libya—650,000 barrels of crude on Monday—was loaded at the Marsa al-Hariga port near the Egyptian border and is now offshore Malta, said a spokesman for the east’s oil company Tuesday.

The spokesman previously has said the cargo is owned by DSA Consultency FZE of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, which couldn’t be reached.

Libya’s National Oil Co. in Tripoli has said that it had taken action to block the east’s shipments.

“We are working very hard with the international community” to stop the delivery, a company official said without elaborating.

The company said it had ordered employees at the terminal not to load the tanker and warned the vessel’s master that the operation was illegal. The company also said the U.N. had been notified of the attempted loading, saying it was in breach of a resolution on Libya.

Libya’s oil exports amount to about 300,000 barrels a day and represent the country’s main source of revenue.

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