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Navy SEALs take back control of hijacked tanker

By Ed Payne, CNN
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Militia leader accuses the U.S. of violating international maritime law by seizing tanker
  • Libya says it asked for U.S. help, thanks Washington for sending in SEALs
  • The Libyan government and rebels jockey over oil revenues
  • Rebels sailed with the tanker from the port of As-Sidra last week

(CNN) -- U.S. Navy SEALs have taken control of a commercial tanker that had been seized by three armed Libyans this month.

In response to the U.S. operation, a leader of the armed federalist group that seized oil ports in east Libya last year released a statement on Monday.

In that statement, Ibrahim Jadran said the tanker was legally hired -- not hijacked -- and accused the United States of violating international maritime law by seizing and boarding the vessel.

No one was hurt in the Sunday night operation, the Pentagon said.

The tanker, Morning Glory, is carrying oil owned by Libya's National Oil Company.

The ship was returning to Libya, according to a written statement from the interim prime minister, which said Tripoli asked for help from countries in the area.

The statement thanked the United States and Cyprus.

Another leader of the rebel group said this was not a setback.

"We consider this to be a victory because the world will be discussing our cause at the (U.N.) Security Council now," said Abd-Rabbo al-Barassi.

The Morning Glory sailed last week from the rebel-held port of As-Sidra in eastern Libya

Libyan forces fired on the vessel but were called off by the U.S. Navy, fearing an environmental disaster. The SEALs boarded the ship in international waters southeast of Cyprus, the Pentagon said.

The situation remains unsettled in the North African nation, which the government is struggling to control more than two years after the ouster of longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Meet the militiaman holding Libya's oil

In this case, the issue centers around the oil-rich eastern part of the country and, in particular, Jadran. The militia leader was entrusted by the government to safeguard crucial oil ports. But in July, Jadran and his men seized them, blocking oil exports, and demanded more autonomy and shared revenues for his eastern region.

He said he acted because the government is corrupt.

The conflict over oil wealth is stoking fears that Libya may slide deeper into chaos as the fragile government fails to rein in the armed brigades that helped oust Gadhafi in 2011 but now do as they please.

Libya, rebels argue over who controls oil tanker -- and Libya's oil

Ousted PM left Libya on way to 'another European country'

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

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