Libya's eastern port of Tobruk reopened Monday and one tanker bound for China was being loaded, officials said.
The news offered a glimmer of hope that the disruption to exports from Libya may ease, at least slightly. The country, where Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is embroiled in a violent struggle to stay in power, is the only member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries so far seriously affected by the protests roiling the Arab world.
"The terminal (at Tobruk) is working at 100 per cent," said, Rajab Sahnoun, an official with the Arabian Gulf Oil Co., which is based in the eastern city of Benghazi, told The Associated Press. He said that one tanker bound for China was being loaded, with a capacity of one million barrels of crude, while another Italy-bound tanker was waiting and expected to load in the coming days.
Sahnoun also said that at least two of the major eastern fields, Sarir and Misla, were still producing, though at reduced capacity. He was not able to say how much production was down at those fields, but noted that the 34-inch pipeline to the terminal was operating normally. The terminal can store four million barrels of crude, he said.
Gamal Shallouf, spokesman for the Tobruk city council, said that along with Sarir and Misla, the Nafoura field was also producing. All three were operating at around 50 per cent, he said.
Libya produces about 1.6 million barrels per day of crude oil, and about 85 per cent of its exports are Europe-bound.
But the fighting that has gripped the nation, with Gadhafi still struggling to retain control of the west while the east has fallen from his grip, has resulted in a production decline of over 50 per cent, according to international oil company officials and analysts.
The country sits atop Africa's largest proven reserves of crude. But it also relies of foreign companies for their expertise as it has tried to boost its overall production levels.
The International Energy Agency reported late Friday that Libya is probably still producing about 850,000 barrels of oil daily, down from its normal capacity of 1.6 million barrels -- but acknowledged the estimate is based on "incomplete, conflicting information." Many of those companies, which include international giants such as Exxon Mobil, BP PLC, Spain's Repsol, Italy's Eni and Austria's OMV, however, pulled their foreign workers as the violence flared.
Local employees, in many cases, also steered clear from the fields and their offices because of the unrest.
In an indication of the state of uncertainty gripping Libya, where phone service at best has always been unreliable and Internet access spotty, Repsol had said Tuesday it suspended operations in the country. A day later, it found out that the fields it operates with other firms were still producing 160,000 barrels of crude daily -- less than half of the 360,000 barrels per day produced before the crisis began.