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U.S. to hand over tanker with contraband oil back to Libya

A North Korean-flagged tanker, the Morning Glory, is seen docked at the Es Sider export terminal in Ras Lanuf in this March 8, 2014 file pho
A North Korean-flagged tanker, the Morning Glory, is seen docked at the Es Sider export terminal in Ras Lanuf in this March 8, 2014 file pho

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy will meet Libyan authorities in international waters in the next day or two to hand over a tanker carrying contraband Libyan oil seized this week by U.S. commandos in the Mediterranean, the Pentagon said on Friday.

A Navy SEAL commando team boarded the Morning Glory from an inflatable boat early on Monday as it lay off Cyprus, taking control of the vessel in less than two hours with no one hurt and no shots fired.

"We are going to hand over the Morning Glory to Libyan naval authorities within the next day or two in international waters, just outside of the territorial water line of Libya," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said.

Warren said the United States was also handing over the three Libyan hijackers and the ship's original 21-member crew, which the Pentagon has said included six Pakistanis, six Indians, three Sri Lankans, two Syrians, two Sudanese and two Eritreans.

"To my knowledge, none of the crew asked for U.S. asylum," Warren said.

The Morning Glory had been escorted by the USS Stout, a guided-missile destroyer. But Warren said that the Stout had been relieved on Wednesday, and that the tanker was now being escorted by the USS Elrod, a guided-missile frigate.

Some 34 sailors from the Elrod were aboard the Morning Glory, he said.

The North Korean-flagged Morning Glory, which was disavowed by Pyongyang over the incident, had been loaded with oil at Es Sider, a Libyan port controlled by anti-government rebels who intended to sell the crude on the global market.

Gunmen demanding regional autonomy and a share of the oil wealth had loaded the ship and eluded the Libyan navy to get to international waters, triggering a political crisis in Tripoli that toppled the prime minister.

The United States intervened militarily after being asked to do so by the governments of Libya and Cyprus, U.S. officials said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and David Alexander; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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