The Complex

Navy SEAL Seizure of Oil Tanker Near Cyprus Leaves Questions Unanswered

For more than a week, the mysterious tanker ship Morning Glory has floated in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea, a supposedly stateless vessel that flew the flag of North Korea while carrying oil stolen by armed Libyans. That run came to an end early Monday morning, when U.S. Navy SEALs stormed the ship off ...

U.S. Navy photo
U.S. Navy photo

For more than a week, the mysterious tanker ship Morning Glory has floated in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea, a supposedly stateless vessel that flew the flag of North Korea while carrying oil stolen by armed Libyans. That run came to an end early Monday morning, when U.S. Navy SEALs stormed the ship off the southeast coast of Cyprus, taking control without injuring anyone or potentially firing a single shot.

The mission was launched at 10 p.m. Sunday night, said Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. A team of sailors with the USS Stout is expected to remain on board the Morning Glory in coming days as the ship is returned to an unnamed port in Libya. The USS Roosevelt, a guided missile destroyer (pictured above), was used as a hub for the operation, with helicopters launched from there in support of the SEALs. Pentagon officials did not say whether the SEALs boarded by helicopter or by sea, or provide details on which units were involved. The mission was launched at the request of the Libyan and Cypriot governments, and carried out by SEALs attached to U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, U.S. military officials said.

The mission raises as many questions as it answers. Some had speculated that North Korea was interested in a cheap score of crude oil, but the North Korean government disavowed the ship and denied giving it any authorization to fly Pyongyang’s flag, according to the New York Times.

The Morning Glory was besieged by a swarm of smaller vessels in the Libyan port of al-Sidra earlier this month, and faced threats from the Libyan government that it would be bombed "into scrap." It escaped, however, and made its way hundreds of miles east, where it was likely looking for a place to sell the oil on the black market. Libya’s parliament voted March 11 to sack Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, citing his inability to stop the Morning Glory as an embarrassment. Zeidan told media March 10 that his forces had control of the vessel, but Libyan officials were forced to admit a day later that the ship was gone. Rebel leader Ibrahim Jathan mocked him by going on television while standing on the ship, asserting control of the 37,000-ton vessel.

The United States had made it clear that it viewed rebel oils sales as illicit. The oil belongs "to the Libyan National Oil Company and its joint venture partners," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said earlier this month. Those partners included some U.S. companies – an American interest that may have helped spur U.S. military involvement.

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