Armed protesters who have seized oil ports in eastern Libya said on Saturday they had started exporting oil, bypassing the Tripoli government, with their first shipment going to a North Korean-flagged tanker.
Officials at state-run National Oil Corp (NOC) confirmed earlier on Saturday that the tanker was docked at the Es-Sider port, which is under the control of a rebel group demanding autonomy and a greater share of Libya's oil wealth.
"We started exporting oil. This is our first shipment," said a spokesman for the protesters, who have seized Es-Sider and two other ports.
The tanker Morning Glory, which had been circling off the Libyan coast for days, was preparing to load crude at the port, said an oil official, asking not to be identified. Oil workers at the port confirmed the docking.
"We have informed the government and the defence ministry so they can take action," the official said, adding that the tanker's crew "are trying to buy oil illegally."
There was no immediate word from the government, but Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and the justice minister scheduled news conferences in the afternoon.
NOC has declared force majeure at the seized ports in the east.
Libya's government has tried to end a wave of protests at oil ports and fields across the North African country that have slashed oil output, the country's lifeline, to a trickle.
(Reporting by Ghaith Shennib, Ulf Laessing and Feras Bosalum; Editing by Dale Hudson)