Libyan opposition oil is being sold by Qatar
Qatar Petroleum's marketing arm, Tasweeq, selling Libya's rebel oil
Qatar Petroleum has confirmed that its international marketing arm, Tasweeq had played a vital marketing role, selling one million barrels of crude in the past week on behalf of Libya's opposition movement, as well as helping them buy four cargoes of refined products.
The confirmation came through a report by the official Qatari news agency QNA, which quoted an unnamed official at the emirate's Energy Ministry as saying that the crude marketed and the products supplied had been lifted from Marsa El-Harigh in rebel-controlled eastern Libya and supplied to the rebel stronghold Benghazi respectively, on 4 and 5 April. The dates and the volume correspond to the widely reported lifting of a 1-million-barrel crude cargo by Greek-managed tanker Equator, which was widely reported to have been chartered by international oil trader Vitol for delivery at China's Ningbo port. Trader rumours about Vitol also having been involved in the delivery of four refined product cargoes have also been heard, but Vitol has refused to officially confirm its involvement.
"The role played by Tasweeq appears to have been to help the Libyan opposition to find buyers and to facilitate the "paperwork" and payments, rather than lifting the crude itself and transporting it to Qatar or a trading hub," explained IHS Senior Middle East Energy analyst Samuel Ciszuk.
"That approach did look the most sensible option from the outset, especially as the risk of violence at the easternmost Marsa El-Harigh crude terminal has been significantly lower than in the rest of Libya following the effective grounding of the regime's air force and the denial of sea access to the regime's navy by the international NATO-led coalition upholding the no-fly zone over Libya," adds Ciszuk.
"Through this set-up, most of the legal risk of buying Libyan crude from the opposition-controlled part of the country's oil industry has been taken on by Tasweeq, as the trader buying the crude is effectively buying Tasweeq-owned crude, albeit for lifting at a Libyan port. If the Libyan regime were to go ahead and sue the buyer of the eastern Libyan crude for dealing with an officially unlicensed selling entity within the country, then Tasweeq would be in the position of direct buyer. Likewise, Tasweeq would have been involved in the facilitation of payment for the crude to the rebel movement, as well as payments from the rebel movement for the refined products, with the international trader just dealing with a Qatari seller and buyer removing the risk of breaching international sanctions on Libya."
"The international community has been united in saying that the Libyan sanctions should be interpreted in a way that effectively exempts the opposition—as the rebels have been deemed the representatives of the people that the no-fly zone and sanctions are in place to protect—although the actual written texts are not clear on the matter, which is a problem of which the international trading community remains highly aware."
The legal aftermath of the UN-administered disgraced Iraqi Oil for Food Programme is still being played out in courts around the world, reminding oil companies, refiners and traders that while international eyes may be averted at the time and signal little international willingness to enforce sanctions and regulations, sentiments might change at a later date, leading to retroactive action.