Risks to shipping using the Libyan ports of As Sidra and Ras Lanuf are currently at elevated risk of collateral damage, IHS Country Risk has reported.
Following the Islamic State attack on major Libyan oil port As Sidra on 1 October, Richard Cochrane, senior IHS Middle East North Africa analyst, said that while shipping is unlikely to be specifically targeted, ships are vulnerable to fighting between rival militias using “inaccurate Grad-type rockets and mortar fire”.
Media reports of the Islamic State attack on the port state that it involved an attempted suicide bombing and a gun fight. Numbers of the killed and injured vary. Between one and three port guards, who belong to the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) which controls the oil terminals, were reported to have been killed, along with the would-be bomber; two guards are said to have been critically injured, along with several Islamic State militants.
The port has been closed since December 2014. It is a key oil depot with the potential of shipping over 400,000 barrels of oil per day.
The oil terminals at As Sidra and Ras Lanuf are likely to be a “key long-term prize” in Islamic State’s strategy, said Cochrane, due to the avenue they provide for oil export.
While the port is currently under the control of forces allied with the internationally recognised government based in Tobruk, Cochrane said that this could change.
The nearby town of Ajdabiya is the stronghold of the Jadhran family, one of whom, Ibrahim, commands the PFG. While Jadhran was allied with the government, Cochrane warned that this alliance has begun to break down in recent weeks.
In addition, Islamic State has started co-opting local tribes in this town.
“We’re seeing a spike in assassinations and fighting in Ajdabiya, indicating that a power struggle is under way between local tribes and jihadists. This undermines security at the terminals and the outcome will obviously be relevant for risks going forward,” said Cochrane.
In addition, oil tankers are at high risk of detention, as the PFG “refuses to recognise the authority of the National Oil Corporation in Tripoli to authorise oil shipments”. But risks of damage to vessels stemming from this dispute are low, said Cochrane.
Due to the fighting in Ajdabiya, the ports at Brega (not under PFG control) and Zueitina are now also at risk, Cochrane confirmed.
Sirte seaport is under the control of IS and is currently closed. “All shipping on approach to Sirte faces a severe risk of coming under attack by Libyan National Army airpower,” warned Cochrane.
Risks to port terminal infrastructure is mitigated by the desire of IS to exploit the revenue-earning potential of the terminals, an IHS Country Risk note stated in May this year.
The group is likely to seek profit from “the opaque system of payments surrounding the export and sale of oil in Libya, probably by infiltrating or co-opting the PFG,” said the note.
However, while the group might maintain the terminals intact, there is an increased risk of “kidnap and death and injury to foreign nationals (particularly Westerners) working at these sites”.
Maritime risk analysis firm Dryad Maritime issued a notice today advising vessels that are approaching Libya to “proceed with extreme caution and be prepared to respond to any VHF calls or warnings from military forces”.
Vessels wishing to trade at any Libyan ports “should send their arrival notices and await authorisation to visit in accordance with local port regulations”, advised the company, adding that a “comprehensive risk assessment should be conducted to ensure the hazards of trading at any Libyan port are fully understood”.