What began late last year as a routine new assignment for Pakistani sea captain Mirza Noman Baig ended in a dramatic nighttime rescue as U.S. Special Forces seized the ship his family said he was forced to operate by Libyan rebels.
U.S. Navy Seals took control of the Morning Glory oil tanker in international waters off Cyprus on Sunday night, along with a cargo of oil that U.S. officials said had been stolen from the Libyan people, whose fragile government Washington supports.
Libya says gunmen demanding regional autonomy and a share of oil wealth managed to load crude onto the ship, which then escaped its navy. The embarrassment to the government in Tripoli prompted parliament to sack the prime minister.
Industry sources say much about the tanker has been a mystery since it showed up in eastern Libya nearly two weeks ago; the identity of its owner and operator were unknown, as was its ultimate destination and the buyer of its cargo.
According to Captain Baig's $9,000-a-month contract, sent to Reuters by his family in Karachi, the operator was Dubai-based Saud Shipping, part of the ZAD Group of companies, which trades and moves oil around the Gulf.
The contract, signed in November, is on paper with a Saud Shipping letterhead and is stamped and counter-signed by the firm.
Baig's family say the captain received direct orders from Saud Al Anazi, the head of ZAD Group, to stop near a rebel-held eastern Libyan port. Here, according to Baig's family and Libyan officials, armed men boarded and loaded the ship with oil.
Libya's government has threatened legal action against anyone involved in helping the rebels export oil. It has not made any allegations of wrongdoing by the captain, by ZAD or Anazi.
ZAD's Anazi denied involvement in any plan to help the rebels sell oil. He declined to comment on Baig's contract and did not respond to multiple requests for further comment on the ownership and operations of the vessel.
In a contract seen by Reuters dated February 22, 2014, Anazi is named as selling the tanker through a company called Morning Glory International Inc to a Libyan buyer.
On Tuesday Libyan rebels released a statement saying an individual still aboard the vessel had bought the ship, without revealing from whom. They accused the United States of "piracy" for raiding the ship.
It is not clear if the Morning Glory was Anazi's to sell, and he did not reply to requests for comment.
An archived page on ZAD Group's website shows an undated press release announcing "the procurement" of the vessel. But Sharjah-based Sea Pride Shipping said last week it was the owner, though it had not been operating the tanker since 2011.
It said it had started legal proceedings against Saud Shipping, which it said had refused to return the vessel.
"Sea Pride Shipping is very happy that the vessel has been seized," the company said in a statement, issued by a spokesman for a firm controlled by the Al Sari family.
Two members of the Al Sari family in the United Arab Emirates are the directors of Sea Pride Shipping. The Al Sari family controls the FAL Group, whose oil-trading arm, FAL Oil Co, was sanctioned by Washington in 2012 for allegedly selling refined petroleum to Iran, which it denies.
Another FAL company, FAL Shipping, continued to get insurance cover for the Morning Glory until last month, the vessel's recent insurer said.
"According to our records, FAL Shipping Co Ltd was our insured member until February 27, 2014," said Anders Leissner of Swedish Club.
However, he said the insurance cover ended at that point because FAL Shipping sold the vessel to an unknown entity.
The spokesman for the Al Sari family-controlled company declined to comment on the Morning Glory's insurance or whether it had been sold.
Libya has said it believes the owner is an unnamed Saudi company.
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