CAIRO -- Libya's oil company says economic fallout from a protracted blockade of its vital oil facilities has resulted in losses surpassing $3.5 billion at a time when the war-torn country i struggling to prevent the new coronavirus.
The National Oil Corporation, which dominates Libya’s critical oil industry, reported late Monday that production had been reduced to 95,837 barrels per day as of Sunday.
Powerful tribes loyal to Libya’s eastern-based forces seized large export terminals and choked off major pipelines in January, aiming to starve the Tripoli-based government of crucial revenues.
The eastern-based forces, led by military commander Khalifa Hifter, launched an offensive in April to seize the capital, Tripoli, clashing with an array of militias loosely allied with the U.N.-supported government. The fighting for Tripoli has ground to a stalemate in recent months.
The national oil company said the over $3.5 billion losses date back to Jan. 17, with daily losses at more than $1.1 million. It warned of a looming fuel shortage, given the government’s inability to pay for imports.
Oil, the lifeline of Libya’s economy, has long been a key factor in the civil war as rival authorities jostle for control of oil fields and state revenue. Libya has the ninth-largest known oil reserves in the world and the biggest oil reserves in Africa.
The closure of the oil facilities is seen as part of Hifter’s efforts to capture Tripoli and punish adversaries there for sealing security and maritime agreements with Turkey, which opened doors for military support from Ankara.
Hifter’s side has accused the Tripoli-based administration of using oil revenues to finance militias and Syrian mercenaries sent by Turkey to help in the fighting against eastern-based forces.
The corporation said it has spent over $300 million since the start of the blockade to purchase and transport fuel into eastern Libya.
The shutdown also comes against the backdrop of a crumbling cease-fire mediated by Russia and Turkey, which support opposing sides of the conflict in the North African country.
Authorities have not confirmed any cases of the new coronavirus, but public health officials fear the global pandemic could devastate Libya, especially as clashes continue around Tripoli.
The head of the U.N. mission in Libya, Stephanie Williams, condemned the intensified attacks on Tripoli’s suburbs, noting with concern that shells reportedly launched by Hifter's forces struck a prison and wounded a number of inmates and officers on Tuesday.
Despite calls by world powers and the U.N. to freeze the fighting so authorities can confront the coronavirus pandemic, sporadic violence persists “with unacceptable disregard for the safety and well-being of the civilian population," she said.
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.