The U.S. Navy will hand over the hijacked oil tanker with 21 multinational sailors on board to the Libyan government in the next few days, a Pentagon spokesman said, adding the transfer is slated to take place in international waters.
The Navy has been escorting the rogue tanker, called the Morning Glory, toward Libyan territorial waters shortly after wrestling the ship from the control of three armed rebels Sunday night. The USS Stout is sailing alongside the tanker as the two boats make their way to the far fringes of the open sea.
The rebels were working with groups in eastern Libya challenging the authority of the central government in Tripoli, as the country struggles to achieve political stability three years after the ouster of longtime strongman Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told The Washington Times that instead of taking the Morning Glory to a specific port of harbor, the Navy will likely arrange a rendezvous with the Libyan government in international waters.
“We're already in discussions with the Libyans about the next step,” Mr. Warren told The Times. “I believe that we'll probably end up transferring the Morning Glory to the Libyan government while remaining in international waters."
The Morning Glory is carrying six Pakistanis, six Indians, three Sri Lanka nationals, two Syrians, two Sudanese nationals and two sailors from Eritrea, Mr. Warren told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon earlier Wednesday.
The ship transfer is expected to take place sometime this weekend, Mr. Warren told The Times.
The Morning Glory has been the focus of worldwide interest after it was taken over by three armed Libyans presumed to be aligned with rebels who control the eastern Libyan port of Es-Sidra.
The port is one of several in Libya currently under blockade by rebel militias attempting to seize control of the nation’s oil wealth as part of a bid to achieve autonomy from Tripoli for eastern Libya.
The incident was an embarrassment to the government in Tripoli and prompted parliament to sack Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, according to Reuters.
Five days after the high-profile ouster of Mr. Zeidan, a team of Navy SEALs swooped in and rescued the tanker and its crew near the coast of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Officials believe the rebels hoped to sell the tanker's oil load to finance their operations.
No shots were fired during the covert operation, which the Pentagon said took less than two hours and was launched after the governments of both Libya and Cyprus asked the United States to intervene.
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