A tanker has arrived in Libya's rebel-held port of Marsa el-Hariga to load up a shipment of oil for export, potentially giving opponents of Muammar Gaddafi crucial funding amid escalating violence.
The Equator tanker, which can carry a million barrels of oil, was chartered by Geneva-based oil trader Vitol SA, according to London-based shipping data provider Lloyd's Intelligence.
The shipment would be only a fraction of Libya's pre-crisis exports of around 1.6 million barrels a day, but is viewed by analysts as a symbolic step forward.
"The significance is not only that this is the first shipment in 18 days, but also a signal that Libya is open to international trade and shipping," said Michelle Wiese Bockmann, Lloyd's List markets editor.
The conflict in Libya caused crude exports from the country, 17th among the world oil producers, to dwindle to a trickle, sparking a surge in global prices. Benchmark crude was trading at around $108 a barrel on Tuesday.
A delivery from Marsa el-Hariga would bring in significant funds for rebels as Libyan government forces attacked fighters trying to take back the key oil town of Brega.
Samuel Ciszuk, IHS Global Insight's senior Middle East energy analyst, said that while exports are likely to remain too small to make any global difference for now, they will provide the rebels with their own independent revenue stream, "making their operations and long-term existence much more viable".
The destination of the tanker, a Suezmax owned by Athens-based Dynacom Tankers, was not certain.
Patrick Handley, a London-based spokesman for Vitol, declined to comment on the company's involvement in the shipment, citing commercial sensitivity.
Ms Bockmann said Lloyd's believed the shipment would be taken to Qatar for marketing - possibly to Italy and France. Qatar last week offered to market oil from the port, while the chief of energy company Eni has visited the rebels' de facto capital, Benghazi, with the aim of resuming oil ties.