A team of elite US Navy SEALs stormed a ‘stateless’ oil tanker near the coast of Cyprus in the early hours of Monday and took control of its 32,000 tonnes of crude, returning the formerly North Korean-flagged vessel to Libya.
The US forces, attached to Special Operations Command Europe, boarded the ‘Morning Glory’, allegedly hijacked by three Libyan rebels, that was headed in an unknown direction, probably to sell its cargo to the highest bidder in the open market.
The US Ambassador in Nicosia thanked the Cyprus government for its cooperation, saying in a brief message, that the USN Seals “did great work off Cyprus” and that “no one (was) hurt.”
“No one was hurt tonight when U.S. forces, at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriot governments, boarded and took control of the commercial tanker Morning Glory, a stateless vessel seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement in Washington.
“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 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.
"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.”
A Cyprus Foreign Ministry announcement on Monday said the tanker had been immobilised in international waters southeast of Cyprus since Saturday.
“Close to midnight on Sunday, the Cypriot authorities were aware of it moving in a westerly course, always within international waters,” it said, adding that “Republic of Cyprus vessels were deployed monitoring the tanker’s course. The vessel stopped once more 18 nautical miles south of Limassol.”
Earlier on Sunday, Cyprus authorities released three individuals who allegedly approached the tanker which was suspected of transporting stolen quantities of oil from the rebel-held port of Sidra in Libya.
The Attorney General of Cyprus and investigators were looking into the activities of the three, who hired a local boat from Larnaca and approached the ‘Morning Glory’ that was lying east off the coast of the island, with the intent of buying the estimated 32,000 tonnes of crude on board.
The Cyprus Foreign Ministry said it received a request by the government of Libya on Tuesday to assist in the return of the stolen amount of oil from the port of Sidra.
The tanker did not request to moor in a Cypriot port and reports earlier on Saturday said it changed its course in a southeasterly direction in international waters.
North Korea denied any connection to the oil tanker that loaded 25 mln euros worth of crude from Sidra and fled the OPEC member state's attempt to seize it, saying the vessel that carried its flag was linked to an Egyptian firm.
Libya's parliament ousted Prime Minister Ali Zeidan on Tuesday after rebels loaded crude at Es Sider terminal onto the North Korean-flagged tanker that later fled naval forces amid reports of a gunfight as it sailed towards the eastern Mediterranean.
It was not clear what flag the cargo ship was now carrying and its tracking device appeared to be switched off.