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Oil Tanker Sets Sail From Libya

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

An oil tanker left an east Libyan port of Tobruk yesterday. It's carrying what's believed to be the first shipment of crude oil from rebel-held territory, since fighting shut down exports last month. It's not yet clear who the buyer is, but the shipment marks a milestone for opposition forces battling Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

For more on this, we called Samuel Ciszuk. He's senior Middle East and North Africa Energy analyst at IHS Energy, and we reached him at his office in London.

Good morning.

Mr. SAMUEL CISZUK (Senior Analyst, Middle East and North Africa Energy, IHS Energy): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now I gather this ship could hold around a million barrels of crude. How much would that be worth and who will be getting the money for this oil?

Mr. CISZUK: Well, it seems like this is the first shipment which the rebels actually will be getting money from. And I mean the value of it is fairly close to the brand price. So, you know, it would be somewhere around, you know, $120 a barrel.

MONTAGNE: Times a million of barrels of oil?

Mr. CISZUK: Of course, yes.

MONTAGNE: So what do we know about the buyer? It's unclear exactly who it is, but what is known?

Mr. CISZUK: Well, you know, not too much to be honest, and it's quite normal in oil trading circles to try to keep things a bit under wrap, you know, in order not to, you know, raise anticipations in particular markets, for instance. And, of course, you know, added to that there is some political risk involved here. You know, there some still potential fear that sanctions could be applied, et cetera. So you know, there's the buyer clearly doesn't want to step forward here.

There's been a lot of rumors around in the market that the cargo might be heading towards China, but that a European trader would be involved sort of in actually having to board the cargo and then going to market it. And we still don't know whether Qatar, which appeared to step in last week and say that we are willing to market the oil on behalf of the rebels, we don't know if they have actually been involved here.

MONTAGNE: Now before the crisis, Libya was exporting more than one and a half million barrels every single day. Does this shipment mean eastern Libya under any rebel control is opened to international oil trade?

Mr. CISZUK: No, I think that's to say a bit too much. Hopefully, from the opposition's point of view, we'll be seeing more cargos coming out. But there's still a trickle, compared to what Libya was producing. The rebels claim that they can produce at the sustained rate of 100,000, 120,000 barrels a day. But, you know, even that, you know, we do need to treat it with a bit of pinch of salt, I think, because, you know, there's been first thing we've seen some signs of potential fighting, now, taking place closer to the oil areas.

Since the government forces, likely, want to go in and disrupt this flow -after all, the rebels, gaining their own independent revenue stream is quite a big strategic setback for the regime of Libya.

So, I think we're still quite far away from that. And also, of course, even if the rebels would be able to, you know, run this little trickle of oil - rather sustained, to actually grow it further, they would require, you know, ex-patriot work force to come back, more of the Libyan workers - educated workers actually return out to the fields. You know, they need to prove that they can secure them, and you know, doing that will take probably a good few months.

MONTAGNE: Just finally, you'd mentioned that Qatar has said it will market Libyan crude for the rebels. How would that work?

Mr. CISZUK: Well, I mean, we don't know exactly, because they haven't gone into detail, but if they chose to do so they would play some sort of middleman role, maybe stepping in as sort of buying the oil straight from the regular(ph) company and then selling it to a third party. It might only be a paper transaction. They might, actually, you know, never lift the crude from Tobruk, Marsa al-Hargia oil terminal in the east, but they would still take away that legal risk of buyers sort of being personally sued for breaking sanctions or something like that.

MONTAGNE: We've been speaking with Samuel Ciszuk. He's senior Middle East and North Africa energy analyst at IHS Energy in London. Thank you very much.

Mr. CISZUK: Thank you so much.

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MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.