TRIPOLI - Libya has accused striking guards who have seized oil export terminals of trying to make shipments for their own profit and threatened military action against any unauthorised vessel that docks.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan issued the warning late on Thursday, three weeks into the action by the security guards that has halted virtually all loadings at key terminals on the central coast.
"A group of guards at oil terminals in the central region has decided to bring vessels they have organised themselves to export oil for their own profit," Zeidan charged.
"Any vessel not under contract to the National Oil Company (NOC) that approaches the terminals will be bombed from the air and the sea," he said, adding he had the backing of the General National Congress, the highest political body in Libya, for the warning.
Petroleum Minister Abdelbari al-Aroussi said the action by the guards had cost Libya US$1.6 billion (S$2.04 billion) in lost export revenues since July 25, in a major blow for the North African nation which is almost entirely dependent on oil and gas for its foreign exchange earnings.
Zeidan warned that the government could not allow the loss of exports to go on indefinitely.
"If the blockade of the oil terminals continues, the state will be obliged to use all means at its disposal, including those of the army," the prime minister warned.
Zeidan said the continued closure of the Brega, Zueitina, Ras Lanouf and Sedra terminals to vessels under contract to the state-owned NOC came despite his government's efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to the dispute.
The striking guards accuse Zeidan and Aroussi of awarding export contracts outside longstanding NOC procedures.
"An agreement was reached with the mediation committee to set up a panel of judges to assess whether there is any foundation to these allegations," Zeidan told state television flanked by his petroleum, defence and foreign ministers.
Aroussi said the blockade had damaged Libya's credibility on world oil markets.
"Some customers are turning away from Libya to other producers for their supplies," he said.
Aroussi said earlier this month that output was running at 700,000 barrels per day, up from a low of 330,000 bpd recorded at the height of the protests in late July but still far short of the pre-protest average of 1.42 million bpd.
Even that figure fell short of the 1.6 million bpd averaged before the 2011 overthrow and murder of veteran dictator Muammar Gaddafi.