By Ulf Laessing and Ayman al-Warfalli
TUNIS/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan authorities and U.S. security firm Guidry Group plan to finalise an agreement to develop a major port in the east of the troubled oil producer, both sides said.
Talks have been going on for about a year to build a port in Susah, which would mark a rare sign of investment in Libya. Most of the country has been in chaos since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
“The Guidry Group and the State of Libya through the Sea Port Authority officially signed the concession agreement on May 13 for the development of a multi-purpose, deep sea port in Susah, Libya,” the Guidry Group said in a statement to Reuters.
“Next steps for the project will involve establishing all the technical, financial, operational and commercial requirements,” the firm said.
Salah Elhasi, head of the eastern port authority, said no final deal had been signed yet but 90 percent of work was done.
“We are in the final stage of the agreement. …and are reviewing the agreement’s details,” he said.
Neither side gave details. In February, both had put the investment volume of the project at $1.5 billion.
A final signature would be a coup for the parallel government in charge of eastern Libya which has not gained international recognition. The U.N.-backed government sits in Tripoli in western Libya.
The Susah port is supposed to be the main entry port for goods into Libya as a sea depth of up to 40 meters (130 feet) would enable containers to load goods on smaller vessels headed for other cities.
Officials hope the port will create jobs in a country where most look to a bloated public sector or join armed groups.
Since the negotiations started, tensions between the two governments have escalated as eastern Libyan forces led by Khalifa Haftar allied to the parallel government started a military campaign to seize Tripoli.
The port is meant to serve the whole of Libya.
The Guidry Group said it was “very close” to signing a funding agreement for the port.
Some fear a port may damage ancient historical sites.
Susah, with its sleepy fishing harbour next to historic temple columns and also some underwater sites, is close to the ancient Greek mountain city of Cyrene.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by David Gregorio)