Late Sunday, off the coast of Cyprus, a team of U.S. Navy SEALs captured the hijacked oil tanker Morning Glory from Libyan rebels. "No one was hurt tonight when U.S. forces, at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriot governments, boarded and took control of the commercial tanker Morning Glory, a stateless vessel seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans," said Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby. President Obama authorized the raid just after 10 p.m. on Sunday.
U.S. forces will escort the ship back to a port controlled by Libya's central government, which is fighting various factions for possession of the country's vast oil reserves.
The story of the Morning Glory is complicated and slightly madcap, but with serious implications for Libya and Europe, which gets oil from the country via a pipeline to Italy. On March 1, the North Korea-flagged ship turned off its satellite transponder and a week later turned up in the eastern Libyan port of Es Sider, which is controlled by a rebel militia that is trying to sell oil from the region for its own profit. On March 10, the tanker left port carrying 234,000 barrels of oil.
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If breakaway regions are allowed to sell oil on their own, the Libyan government will quickly go bankrupt. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan ordered the Morning Glory stopped, even if it meant sinking the vessel. With Libya's navy essentially nonexistent and its air force embroiled in its own infighting, the militia Zeidan sent out to stop the tanker failed. Parliament then sacked Zeidan, who subsequently fled to Germany. On March 13, North Korea revoked the Morning Glory's registration, making it a stateless vessel.
Contraband oil is harder to sell than you might think. Libya could still descend into civil war, as various militias battle for resources and influence. But now at least the rebels in the oil-rich east know the risks of trying to use a heavily watched and coveted international commodity as a weapon.
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