Kurdish separatist rebels claimed responsibility Thursday for sabotaging a critical Turkish pipeline, helping push global oil prices back above $120 per barrel.

The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which brings Azeri oil from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean for westbound shipments, caught fire Tuesday night and Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency said it could remain shut down for up to 15 days. The pipeline can pump slightly more than 1 million barrels of crude oil per day or more than 1 percent of the world's daily crude output

It was not clear what ignited the blaze and by late Thursday, the fire still had not been fully extinguished.

Global oil prices jumped back above $120 a barrel, rising for the first time in four days after the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as PKK, claimed responsibility for sabotaging the pipeline, according to the pro-Kurdish news agency Firat which often carries the group's statements.

Oil prices had been easing off the record high of $147.27 a barrel set on July 11.

Shipments from the Ceyhan port terminal, at the southern tip of the pipeline on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, were continuing as of early Thursday using oil that had already been stockpiled, said a spokesman for pipeline shareholder British Petroleum.

"Exports in Ceyhan were continuing as of this morning. There was enough oil for the tankers waiting there," BP's Murat Lecompte told The Associated Press, adding that he did not know how long the stocks would last.

Lecompte said it was too early to predict how long the pipeline would be shut down because they would not know the exact damage until the fire is extinguished.

The 1,100-mile pipeline, backed by the U.S., allows the West to tap oil from Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea fields, estimated to hold the world's third-largest reserves, and bypass Russia and Iran. The project cost around $4 billion.

Oil companies declared force majeure, freeing them of contractual obligations to deliver crude with the prospect of a prolonged shutdown of the pipeline.

Turkish officials said is currently under control and is isolated to a valve in Turkey's eastern Erzincan province, where it first broke out. Two other valves along the pipeline were shut down as a precaution, halting the flow of all oil being sent to Ceyhan terminal from Azerbaijan.

Output at the Azeri-Chiraq Guneshli oil field, which feeds the pipeline, was ramped down Thursday but was still continuing, Lecompte said.

BP Azerbaijan spokeswoman Tamam Bayatli told The Associated Press on Wednesday that most of the oil produced was being stored at a terminal near the field and some being pumped via alternate routes such as the Baku-Supsa pipeline.

The Baku-Supsa, which had been out of service for repairs, has been put back into operation and will be able to receive some of the oil that normally goes to Ceyhan, she said. Supsa is a Georgian Black Sea port. The pipeline has capacity of 140,000 barrels a day.

The PKK is fighting for self rule in eastern and southeastern parts of Turkey. Tens of thousands have been killed since the rebels took up arms in 1984.


Associated Press writer Aida Sultanova in Baku, Azerbaijan contributed to this report.