WASHINGTON — A team of U.S. Navy SEAL commandos boarded an oil tanker Sunday night in the Mediterranean Sea in an apparent bid to prevent the delivery of Libyan crude worth several million dollars that members of a militia had been attempting to sell, according to U.S. and Libyan officials.
In an operation approved by President Barack Obama, the commandos secured the commercial tanker Morning Glory shortly after 10 p.m. Eastern time and were en route overnight to a Libyan port, Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. No one was hurt, he said.
Libya's fledgling government had strongly opposed the sale of oil by a militia in eastern Libya and at one point threatened to bomb the tanker, which it said at the time was a North Korean-flagged vessel.
When the tanker set sail last week, outraged lawmakers ousted Prime Minister Ali Zeidan through a no-confidence vote and installed the country's defense minister as interim leader. Zeidan had become deeply unpopular for failing to rein in the militias that emerged during Libya's 2011 civil war.
In a statement Monday, the Libyan government said its initial efforts to seize control of the ship had failed as a result of "bad weather and inadequate resources."
The dispute over the ship underscored the weakness of the Libyan government and the extent to which the Obama administration is willing to use military force to support an oil-rich nation still reeling from the aftermath of its civil war.
"The Libyan interim government confirms that the sale of Libyan oil is the main source of national income and any illegal removal will not be tolerated," the Libyan government said. The statement credited the United States and Cyprus for help in stopping the shipment.
Pentagon officials said the ship is expected to arrive in Libya within four days.