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Libya frees 3 seized on rogue oil tanker

01 April 2014, 17:45

Tripoli - Three Libyans who took control of a tanker illegally loaded with oil have been freed under a deal with rebels blockading terminals, the official news agency Lana reported on Tuesday.

"The prosecutor general has decided on the release of the three accused who forced the captain and the crew of the tanker to enter Al-Sidra port and to steal Libyan oil," it said.

Last month, the "Morning Glory" evaded the Libyan navy off Al-Sidra - controlled by rebels seeking autonomy from Tripoli - after reportedly being loaded with at least 234 000 barrels of crude.

On 17 March, the US Navy intercepted and boarded the tanker in the eastern Mediterranean and escorted it back to Libya.

The three Libyans and 21-member crew of various other nationalities on the Egyptian-owned vessel were handed over to police.

There was no immediate word on the fate of the crew but they were also expected to go free.

The release of the Libyans stirred protests from lawyers and magistrates, who demonstrated outside the prosecutor general's office on Tuesday against alleged political interference in the case.

Heavily armed former rebels

Members of the prosecutor's office said the releases came under pressure from authorities, who have been working to find a compromise to allow for a reopening of oil terminals blockaded by rebels.

The move came as government and rebel sources said a deal appeared to be imminent.

The weak Tripoli government's failure to stop the Morning Glory plunged Libya into one of its biggest crises since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled by a Nato-backed uprising in 2011.

The ship's escape after authorities had repeatedly vowed to take all measures to stop it underscored the weakness of the central government, which has struggled to rein in heavily armed former rebels.

Rebels pressing for autonomy for Libya's eastern Cyrenaica region - epicentre of the revolt against Gaddafi - have been blockading oil terminals in the east since July.

That has led to a decline in exports from 1.5 million barrels a day to just 250 000.

The Morning Glory was originally a North Korean-flagged ship, but Pyongyang said it had "cancelled and deleted" its registry on the grounds it was carrying contraband material.



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