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Militia fight stops Libyan gas exports to Italy’s Eni

Incident is the latest violent disruption to the fuel sector

Libyan Deputy Oil Minister Omar Shakmak speaking during a joint news conference with other government ministers in Tripoli, yesterday. Photo: ReutersLibyan Deputy Oil Minister Omar Shakmak speaking during a joint news conference with other government ministers in Tripoli, yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Libya has stopped gas exports to Italy from its Mellitah complex after fighting on Saturday between militias, Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) and Italy’s Eni said yesterday.

Libya’s Defence Ministry sent security personnel to secure the complex, about 100 kilometres west of the capital Tripoli, to ensure exports could resume soon, said Abdufattah Shagan, chairman of Mellitah, an NOC-Eni joint venture.

Mellitah supplies Italy with gas through the Greenstream pipe­line, which at full capacity pumps at least eight billion cubic metres. Italy gets most of its gas from Algeria, Russia and Norway, with Libya providing about 10 per cent.

Saturday’s firefight began after an argument between former rebel fighters from nearby Zuwara and from Zintan over who should guard Mellitah, security officials said, adding the clashes were now over.

Deputy Oil Minister Omar Shakmak told a news conference in Tripoli one person was killedand several injured. Khaled Buk­rayat, a member of Zuwara Media centre, said seven people were seriously injured.

It was the latest violent disruption to the energy industry in Libya where protests have shut down oil-export terminals in recent months and in the North African region following January’s bloody hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant.

Thousands of former rebels who fought to overthrow former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 have been employed in a protection force to look after Libyan oil and gas installations.

But in recent months activists and local militia have disrupted operations in Libya’s main industry, pursuing goals such as better living conditions or more regional auto­nomy. In July they forced the closure of three major oil terminals.

This has hurt Opec member Libya’s oil output, which returned to close to pre-war levels of 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) faster than analysts expected after the 2011 conflict. Eni said gas flows from Mellitah to Gela, Sicily, had been halted and Italy’s industry ministry had been alerted.

Speaking from the complex, where only emergency staff were present, Mellitah’s Shagan said defence ministry vehicles were on their way.

“As soon as they guarantee the security, we will resume exports in 48 hours,” he said.

Defence Minister Mohammed al-Barghathi said the armed forces were on their way: “They are under instructions to allow (former rebels) there to leave and ­then the army will look after the facility.”

Mellitah has two plants – one treating oil and condensate from the Wafa fields and another for gas and condensate from the Sabratha offshore platform, according to Mellitah’s website.

A senior Libyan oil official said production at both Wafa and Sabratha had been affected by the Mellitah shutdown.

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