Only a relatively small amount was being shipped out, a fraction of the export by Africa's largest producer of oil before civil war erupted. But for "Free Libya", the coming of the oil tanker Equator at the port of Tobruk yesterday was a momentous declaration of economic independence.
The tanker will start what the rebel government hopes will be a lucrative international trade as it is being recognised politically by foreign states as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.
Secrecy surrounded the voyage of the Liberian-registered and Greek-owned vessel despite the coastline being patrolled by Nato warships, which would see off any attempts by Muammar Gaddafi's naval forces to intercept the cargo. Original plans for a quayside rally were cancelled amid fears that regime loyalists may attempt sabotage.
A million barrels of oil were being exported, the first in almost a month from the eastern half of the country.
The collapse of the Libyan export market has pushed the price of oil to the highest for two and a half years, and the revenues gained by the rebel government could be used to kick-start a moribund economy.
The oil was destined for Qatar, the Gulf state, which has recognised the administration in the rebel capital, Benghazi, as the legitimate government and has agreed to sell the product. Italy, which also backs the rebels, is expected to be one of the first destinations for opposition oil.
Meanwhile the rebel government's military forces suffered another reverse on the same day that Prime Minister David Cameron declared "there is no future for Libya that involves Colonel Gaddafi still being at the helm".
An artillery barrage by regime troops drove back the rebels 25km from the city of Brega. The rebels have been attempting to take back the oil ports of Brega and Ras Lanuf after Western air strikes stopped an advance by regime troops. However, ineptitude by the revolutionaries has led to failure.
International coalition aircraft attacked regime forces outside Brega yesterday, but the rebels scathingly criticised Nato for for "failing to do its duty" in the war.
General Abdel Fattah Younes threatened that the UN Security Council would be asked to suspend its mission unless it "did its job properly". Gen Younes claimed it took Western powers up to eight hours to launch air strikes after being notified of targets by the rebels, whereas it took the revolutionary's own air force three minutes to carry out attacks. "The people will die and this crime will be on the face of the international community forever. What is NATO doing?" he asked at a news conference in Benghazi in the rebel-held east. Meanwhile the rebel government in Benghazi apologized to Britain over the supply of arms and explosives in the past to the IRA and promised an investigation into the matter. There has, however, been no such expression of remorse from those actually responsible, the Gaddafi regime.
In a further development, the Libyan government appointed Abdelati Obeidi – who has been on a foreign tour to discuss solutions to Libya's crisis – as its new foreign minister.
The export of oil was facilitated by the international community on Monday with the European Union clarifying legal advice on sanctions, saying sales were permissible as long as the revenue did not accrue for the regime.
There are said to be disagreements among the rebel leadership on how much revenue should be divided between military effort and civic and commercial reconstruction.
After more than four decades of command economy, after private enterprise was effectively dismantled when Colonel Gaddafi came to power 42 years ago, the vast majority of the working population are dependent on the state. Most of them have not received salaries or pensions for over two months.
Saleh Mohammed Qasi, a member of the recently-restarted chamber of commerce in Benghazi, said: "We are in level zero at the moment as far as the business community is concerned. Offices and shops had been shut for weeks and only now are a few opening again. In many instances owners and employees have fled out of the cities.
"The oil export is great news because it is a sign that we are on the way to getting a functioning commercial sector."
'Papa' Gaddafi – by his nurse
"Papa", as Muammar Gaddafi was known to his Ukrainian nurses, loved nothing more than a meal of camel meat and couscous, ensuring his health was better than most of those around him.
Speaking to Komsomolskaya Pravda, Oksana Balinskaya claimed that Colonel Gaddafi was a generous boss, handing out gifts to loyal staff. "We had no complaints," she said. "In New York, for example, Papa gave a personal order to give us some money so we could run around the local boutiques."
She also denied that her colleague, Galyna Kolotnytska – who was described in leaked US diplomatic cables as the Colonel's "voluptuous blonde" – was having an affair with him.Reuse content