Libya is threatening to use military force to bring order to its oil sector, where a strike by guards has dealt a heavy blow to its fragile post-revolution economy.
Oil exports plunged by more than 70 per cent at the end of July after guards, including rebels who helped topple dictator Muammar Gaddafi two years ago, forced terminals to shut.
The strike - now in its third week - came after protests first emerged in June and has virtually stopped production and exports at key terminals in Ras Lanuf, Sedra, Brega and Zoueitina on the central coast. For weeks the guards have been accusing Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and Oil Minister Abdelbari al-Arusi of awarding export contracts illegally, in violation of procedures by the National Oil Company.
The NOC insisted there has been no wrongdoing, but Zeidan said an agreement was reached to investigate the claims made by the guards.
The prime minister also accused the guards of trying to make shipments for "their own profit" and threatened military strikes against any unauthorised vessel that docks.
"A group of guards at oil terminals in the central region has decided to bring vessels they have organised themselves to export oil for their own profit," Zeidan said. "Any vessel not under contract to the National Oil Co that approaches the terminals will be bombed from the air and the sea."
Armed guards in charge of protecting Libya's vital oil industry were formed by the defence ministry after the fall of Gaddafi, and include rebels who helped topple him.
Since the 2011 uprising, Libya's new rulers have been caught in a tug-of-war with these former militiamen, who have no qualms about using weapons to protect their interests.
The strike has dealt a blow to production, with production falling from 1.5 million to 500,000 barrels of oil per day.
Libya is almost entirely dependent on oil and gas for its foreign exchange earnings, with hydrocarbons accounting for up to 97 per cent of its exports.
The strike has cost Libya US$1.6 billion in lost export revenues since July 25, the oil minister said.