Navy SEALs seized control of renegade vessel “Morning Glory” early this morning, less than 24 hours after it dropped anchor just off Larnaca.
According to the Pentagon, no one was hurt in the raid, which took place around 20 nautical miles, east of the island.
The ship, which US officials say has been hijacked by three armed Libyans, and its illicit cargo of Libyan oil will now be sailed back to Libya under the control of Navy sailors.
According to Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby, “No one was hurt tonight when US forces, at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriot governments, boarded and took control of the commercial tanker Morning Glory, a stateless vessel seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans.”
The team of Navy SEALs boarded the oil freighter from the guided missile destroyer USS Roosevelt (DDG-80) which, according to Kirby, “provided helicopter support and served as a command and control and support platform for the other members of the force assigned to conduct the mission.”
A statement by the Foreign Ministry in Cyprus confirmed the capture of the renegade vessel. “In the early hours of today, Morning Glory was seized by US Navy SEALs forces and according to the recent update is now heading east away from the island accompanied by the USS Roosevelt.”
Media reports earlier in the week indicated that the freighter was a North Korean-flagged vessel loaded with 200,000 barrels of oil. The port is currently under the control of Libyan rebel forces seeking more autonomy from the Libyan government who control crucial oil facilities and ports in eastern Libya. It is unclear if the vessel really is a North Korea vessel.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki issued a statement last week that the United States was “deeply concerned by reports that a vessel sailing under the name Morning Glory is loading a cargo of illicitly obtained oil at the Libyan port of As-Sidra.”
On Saturday, police in Cyprus were forced to release three men - suspected of attempting to purchase illegal crude oil from the vessel - from custody after it emerged that investigators did not have the right to arrest them.
According to Larnaca District Court Judge, Tonia Nicolaou, the alleged crime was committed ten nautical miles off Cyprus’ jurisdiction and their request was therefore inadmissible within a court of Cypriot law.
The suspects, who investigators said found ten passports between them, are said to be two Israeli nationals and a Senegalese man and have since left the island.
The Morning Glory escaped a blockade of Sidra imposed by the government in Tripoli. That precipitated a political crisis in Libya where the Libyan Parliament passed a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Ali Zeidani, who then reportedly fled to Europe.
There are real concerns now that Libya could spiral into a civil war between factions from eastern and western Libya.