TRIPOLI, Libya – The U.N. Security Council condemned the illicit export of crude oil from Libya on Wednesday and authorized U.N. member states to board suspect vessels and return illegally seized oil to the Libyan government.
The council unanimously adopted a resolution authorizing the ship inspections three days after U.S. Navy SEAL commandos seized a tanker off Cyprus containing Libyan oil that a militia controlling the country's oil terminals was trying to export in defiance of the central government.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power tweeted that the "Libyan government's hand is now stronger in negotiations with militias threatening one of Libya's most precious resources." She said that the resolution "makes it hard for the illicit exporter of oil to profit from their actions."
The resolution underlines that the Libyan government has the primary responsibility to prevent the illicit export of its oil and expresses concern that illegal shipments "undermines the government of Libya and poses a threat to the peace, security and stability of Libya."
It authorizes government-operated ships to inspect vessels suspected of carrying illegal oil that have been reported to the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against Libya, "and direct the vessel to take appropriate actions to return the crude oil ... to Libya."
Militia commander Ibrahim Jedran, whose fighters control Libya's oil terminals, denounced the U.S. seizure of the tanker saying Tuesday that Washington was siding with the government in Tripoli against the aspirations in the eastern half of the country for greater autonomy.
Jedran is part of a movement demanding autonomy for eastern Libya, and last summer his militia took over Libya's oil facilities in the east, virtually shutting down the country's previous production of 1.4 billion barrels a day.
This month, Jedran's militia loaded a tanker full of more than $30 million-worth of oil at a Mediterranean port it controls and tried to export the oil for sale for the east's coffers. It is not known who the oil was to be sold to or who owns the tanker.
The U.S. Navy is now escorting the tanker, Morning Glory, back to Libya to hand over to the central government.
The tanker episode illustrated the extreme weakness of Libya's government since the 2011 ouster and death of longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
Authorities in Tripoli have almost no authority around the country, the army and police are in disarray, and multiple militias around the country have filled the void, claiming their own power. At the same time, the autonomy movement in the east has gained strength, building on local resentment over years of discrimination and marginalization of the area by Tripoli.
The Security Council expressed support for Libyan government efforts "to resolve peacefully" the disruption of oil exports and stressed that control of all oil facilities "should be transferred back to the proper authorities."
Power said in a statement that "theft of Libyan oil is theft from the Libyan people."
"Today's resolution will make such theft much more difficult," she said. "These enforcement measures signal to the people and government of Libya that the international community supports Libya's sovereignty and its right to manage its own natural resources."
Associated Press writer Alexandra Olson contributed to this report.