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Tanker full of stolen oil arrives back in Libyan port

A tanker laden with oil illegally loaded by a militia has returned to port in Libya, after it was re-taken by the US Navy and handed over to Libyan forces. The ship's return is seen as a boost for Tripoli's authority.

The oil tanker Morning Glory, which earlier this month was loaded full of crude oil at a the rebel-held port in Libya's east, returned to Tripoli on Sunday. It was later due to dock at the nearby port of Zawiya and offload its cargo.

Libyan navy spokesman Ayoub Qassem told The Associated Press news agency that navy members boarded the ship off the coast of Tripoli. The crew of 21, as well as three militiamen, were arrested and taken to shore for questioning by police, Qassem said.

"They will be referred to the relevant judicial authorities," Lieutenant Colonel Salim ash-Shwirf, told a reporter for the Reuters news agency, who was allowed to board the tanker and witnessed the arrest.

Appearing tired, ship captain Mirza Noman Baig, a Pakistani, showed navy personnel cracks and bullet holes resulting from fighting with the Libyan navy.

The Morning Glory was handed over to Libyan authorities on Saturday after being seized on March 17 by United States Navy SEALs (sea, air and land forces) near Cyprus. The vessel, which had its North Korean flag disavowed by Pyongyang, had earlier managed to dodge Libyan naval forces and escape into international waters, a move which embarrassed Tripoli authorities and led to the ouster of the president, Ali Zidan.

According to Reuters, family members of the captain said the crew was forced by the armed Libyan rebels to load the oil and evade Libya's navy.

Struggle for control

A militia from Libya's east had attempted to sell the crude oil in defiance of the government.

Fighters led by Ibrahim Jathran have been seeking more autonomy in the region and a greater share of the OPEC member country's oil resources. Many in the region feel forgotten by Tripoli-focused authorities.

Libya's government has struggled to control powerful militias which have been blockading ports. The handover of the oil tanker by the US Navy was seen as a show of Western support for the embattled government, which is yet to secure the North African nation three years after uprisings that led to the demise of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.

se/tj (Reuters, AP)

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