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Navy SEALs board mystery tanker Morning Glory near Cyprus. No one hurt, Pentagon says.

A North Korean-flagged tanker “Morning Glory” is docked at the Es Sider export terminal in Ras Lanuf, March 8, 2014. (Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters)

A team of U.S. Navy SEALs boarded and took control of an oil tanker seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans, the Pentagon announced this morning.

The Libyans had apparently been trying to sell the oil on the black market.

The action, in international waters near Cyprus, was taken at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriot governments, the Pentagon said, adding that no one was hurt.

The ship appears to have been wandering around the Mediterranean piloted by unknown sailors under an uncertain flag, with at least one effort made by three men in a boat near Larnaka to buy oil from it.

According to a Pentagon statement:

“The Morning Glory is carrying a cargo of oil owned by the Libyan government National Oil Company. The ship and its cargo were illicitly obtained from the Libyan port of As-Sidra.”

Media reports earlier in the week suggested that the tanker was a North Korean-flagged vessel loaded with 200,000 barrels of oil. But a North Korean official denied that on Thursday, saying the ship-named “Morning Glory” had had its North Korean registration revoked.

Libyan government forces and loyal militia fighters claim a rival militia hoped to load the tanker with oil for export in defiance of central authorities.

A paper in Cyprus reported that authorities there are questioning three people who hired a local boat and tried to buy oil from the tanker.

Libya’s parliament ousted Prime Minister Ali Zeidan on Tuesday after rebels loaded crude onto the ship.

According to the Pentagon statement:

“The boarding operation, approved by President Obama and conducted just after 10 p.m. EDT on March 16 in international waters southeast of Cypress, was executed by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs attached to Special Operations Command Europe.
“The SEAL team embarked and operated from the guided missile destroyer USS Roosevelt (DDG-80). USS Roosevelt provided helicopter support and served as a command and control and support platform for the other members of the force assigned to conduct the mission.
“The Morning Glory will be underway soon to a port in Libya with a team of sailors from the USS Stout (DDG-55) embarked. The sailors will be supervising the transit.”

According to Reuters, the Cypriot ministry of foreign affairs said the vessel was now heading west in the Mediterranean with a U.S. military escort. It was parked 18 miles southwest of Cyprus when the operation occurred around midnight Cyprus time.

The standoff over control of OPEC member Libya’s oil is one facet of wider turmoil that has engulfed the vast North African country since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi nearly three years ago. The government and nascent army have struggled to control brigades of former anti-Gaddafi fighters who have refused to disarm and have used their military muscle to make political demands on the state, often by targeting the vital oil sector.

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