By SARAH KENT
LONDON‚ÄîU.S. forces boarded an oil tanker loaded with Libyan crude late Sunday and took control of the vessel, ending an odyssey by the ship, the “Morning Glory,” started a week ago when it left a Libyan port controlled by rebels.
It was the first instance of a ship trying to load crude from a rebel-controlled facility in Libya and triggered a political storm that ultimately cost the country’s prime minister his job. Since the departure of the tanker, its whereabouts had been unknown, though industry officials said it would be difficult to unload the crude in any of the world’s major oil transportation hubs. An oil tanker is also a large and slow vessel, lending itself to being easily tracked.
In a statement, the Pentagon said U.S. Navy SEALS, at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriot governments, boarded and gained control of the vessel shortly after 10 p.m. Eastern time. The boarding took place in international waters off the southeast coast of Cyprus. The U.S. said there were no injuries.
The Pentagon called the cargo an illegal load of oil owned by the Libyan government. It said the ship was under way, headed back to Libya, under the control of a team of sailors from the U.S.S. Stout, a guided-missile destroyer.
The Pentagon, in its brief statement, called the vessel “stateless,” and said it had been seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans.
The Morning Glory originally flew a North Korean flag. But North Korea said last week that it had revoked the registry of the tanker. Last week, Libyan officials said the tanker was carrying at least 234,000 barrels of crude oil that it had loaded from the Libyan port of Es Sider.
The nighttime raid is a highly unusual U.S. naval operation in the heavily trafficked Mediterranean Sea. But it was reminiscent of a 2009 U.S. operation off the coast of Somalia approved by President¬†Barack Obama¬†against Somali pirates who had seized the U.S.-flagged cargo ship the Maersk Alabama.
The ship’s crew ultimately regained control of the vessel, but several of the pirates escaped with the captain of the ship in a lifeboat. U.S. Navy ships and a contingent of special-forces Navy SEALs killed three pirates in the lifeboat and freed the captain. The standoff was the subject of last year’s Hollywood film “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks.