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Libyan Newswire

Libya’s nominal government calls for international help in fighting blaze at Al Sidra oil tank farm, port

African securityLibya’s nominal government calls for international help in fighting blaze at Al Sidra oil tank farm, port

Published 29 December 2014

Libya has issued a call to foreign firefighters to come to Libya to help fight a massive blaze at the country’s largest oil port, started by rocket fire from an Islamist militia attack. The barrage of rockets, launched by members of Libya Dawn, a coalition of Islamist and Misratan militias which is now in control of the capital Tripoli, set ablaze one of the giant storage tanks at Al Sidra on Thursday. The blaze has since spread through the tank farms, igniting seven of the nineteen storage tanks and sending flames and smoke hundreds of feet into the sky. To make sure the tank farm is destroyed, the Libyan Dawn authorities ordered local fire departments not to assist in extinguishing the fires, prompting the internationally recognized government, now situated in Tobruk, to issue a call for foreign fire fighters to come to Libya to help fight the spreading fire.

Libya has issued a call to foreign firefighters to come to Libya to help fight a massive blaze at the country’s largest oil port, started by rocket fire from an Islamist militia attack.

The barrage of rockets, launched by members of Libya Dawn, a coalition of Islamist and Misratan militias which is now in control of the capital Tripoli, set ablaze one of the giant storage tanks at Al Sidra on Thursday. The blaze has since spread through the tank farms, igniting seven of the nineteen storage tanks and sending flames and smoke hundreds of feet into the sky.

The tank farm holds six million barrels of oil, and there are fears that as the tanks rupture as a result of the fire, millions of tons of crude oil would spill into the Mediterranean.

An oil corporation official, Mohammed al-Harari, told Al Arabiya News late Saturday that 850,000 barrels of oil had already been lost because of the fire in the five storage tanks.

As is the case with Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia, Libya no longer exists as a unitary country. It has two governments:

  • The nominal official government, recognized by the UN, U.S., Europe, and the Arab League, has escaped Tripoli in August and is now situated in Tobruk
  • The Islamist Libya Dawn government, supported by Turkey and Qatar, which has been is control of Tripoli since August

We should note that the word “government” is used loosely: The Tobruk government controls a few office buildings in Tobruk, if that, and has no power (most of the fighting against the Islamist militia is being done by the private army of General Khalifa Heftar, a renegade general who has built a powerful army and air force consisting of defectors from the Libya military). The Tripoli-based Islamist government has several militias currently supporting it, but as has been the case in Libya since Qaddafi’s fall in November 2011, this association is conditional and temporary, and the militias may shift their allegiance to another coalition of militias tomorrow.

The spokesman of the Tobruk government, Ali al-Hassi, called for foreign firefighting crews to be flown to Libya. “We are trying to extinguish it but our capacities are limited,” he said.

The Guardian reports that foreign powers are nervous about deploying fire crews to a battlefield: Al Sidra has become the focus of a pitched battle between the recognized government – the one which has fled to the eastern city of Tobruk — and Dawn militia coalition, which has established its own rival government in Tripoli.

Libya Dawn fighters have been trying to capture the port and the adjacent oil tank farm for two weeks now, and their goal appears to be to deny to Tobruk government access to the port and to the oil, even if this means destroying both. The fire to the tank farm was set by rockets launched from three speed boats operated by Dawn fighters.

To make sure the tank farm is destroyed, the Libyan Dawn authorities ordered local fire departments not to assist in extinguishing the fires, prompting volunteer firefighters to come forward to fight the flames with the help of oil installation guards – and prompting the Tobruk government to issue a call for foreign fire fighters to come to Libya to help fight the spreading fire.

Yesterday (Sunday), in retaliation for the Thursday attack on Al Sidra, forces loyal to the internationally recognized Tobruk government attacked Misrata’s port, an air force academy near the airport, and Libya’s biggest steel plant, which is located in the western city.

An Airbus from Turkish Airlines, the last foreign airline still operating Libya routes – more precisely, routes serving Dawn-controlled areas — was on the tarmac when bombs struck close to the control tower, missing the runway. A spokesman for Libya Dawn said the Istanbul flight was later able to take off safely.

In Cairo, Libya’s foreign minister, Mohamed Dayri, called for Western powers for help in both tackling the oil blaze and combating “extremists” battling government forces.

“We, as Libyans, are concerned. But the Arab world and the international community should be too because of the desire of these extremist terrorist groups to reach oil resources,” said Dayri.

Analysts say that the bombing of Misrata, home to one of only two airports in Libya Dawn-controlled areas, is an escalation of a war that the United Nations said has already displaced 400,000 people.

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