Monday, February 28, 2011

Daring Air Rescue Raids Leave Libya's Oil Fields to Looters
Libya's remote oil fields are becoming a troubling no-man's land after a series of daring commando missions by British and German military pilots evacuated hundreds of foreign oil workers stranded in the desert.

About 500 foreign nationals were rescued, leaving Libyan personnel in charge of the valuable oil fields, experts said. Looters are making off with what they can take as local tribal leaders try to assert control over the facilities, which produce 2 percent of the world's oil supply.

"There's now no law down there," Simon Robinson, who had been in charge of one of the rigs, told The Independent today after he arrived on a Royal Navy frigate from Libya.

Most of the Libyan oil field are hundreds of miles from the coast in a barren, desolate desert long known for its lawlessness and banditry.

"Gangs are stealing anything they can get their hands on," Robinson said. "I had a vehicle stolen directly off me. Three guys appeared with AK-47s. I know exactly which kind of gun it was, as I can remember reading the small print on the barrel when one was pointed at me."

Not only is the Libyan crisis making oil prices skyrocket, but the future of oil production in the increasingly dangerous country is now a big question mark.

"The biggest question is that even if they do manage to restore the flow of oil, it's unclear who companies will buy oil from," Geoff D. Porter, a political risk and security consultant for companies in North Africa, told AOL News.

"You can't just buy oil from anybody. Ownership has to be legally established. The tribal councils are trying to assert some control, but it's not clear if they have the authority to do that, or if the oil still belongs to Gadhafi," Porter said.

Porter said that most of the big oil companies, like BP, already had a plan in place and got their foreign workers out two days after the Libyan crisis began Feb. 17. But the British and German military have been needed for most of the remaining foreign oil workers. The missions were especially dangerous because the planes went in without obtaining Libya's permission, officials said.

Gunfire from rebels hit one British Royal Air Force C130 Hercules pilot's helmet during the series of secret air rescue raids this weekend. The insurgents mistook the British for members of Moammar Gadhafi's regime, the BBC reported.

Marsden Sims, 63, a civil engineer from Tonyrefail, Wales, said that locals had burned a reading room at his site, and that looters were targeting cars and property, the BBC reported.

"We didn't have direct trouble to begin with, but when word spread from the TV reports, things got quite agitated," he said. "We were in one works compound at Messla, and a few nights ago we saw looters outside taking vehicles and equipment."

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Thousands of Americans, British, Germans and other Europeans have been evacuated by planes, military vessels and even chartered ferries. But thousands of poorer workers, from Bangladesh, China, Somalia and Ethiopia, have been forced to flee into neighboring Tunisia or Egypt.

One group of oil company workers made a risky, six-hour trip from a southern oil field to board a ship to Britain when they realized no help was coming, The Associated Press reported.

"We did a high-speed drive across the desert -- foot down, fingers crossed," said Mike Broadbent, who works for

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