Officials apologised for the bombing as the Greek foreign ministry demanded compensation for the victims’ families and punishment for those behind the attack.
Libyan military spokesman Ahmed Mesmari said its jets had struck the Liberian-flagged Araevo twice on Sunday in Darna, before his government learned the vessel had been commissioned by a local power station.
Darna is a base for extremists who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Mr Mesmari said: “We had no information [about the tanker]. We treated it as a dangerous and suspicious target that threatens national security. We regret the loss of lives.”
However, Libya’s state-run National Oil Corporation contradicted Mr Mesmari’s account, saying it had informed all parties that it had contracted the ship.
The corporation said in a statement: “This incident will negatively impact the arrival of oil tankers to Libyan ports in the future, which will consequently affect the ability to provide fuel to different regions.”
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The Araevo is operated by an Athens-based shipping firm, Aegean Shipping Enterprises Company, and was carrying 12,600 tonnes of crude oil.
A spokesman for the company said: “Nobody expected an attack on the vessel. It serves the needs of every area in Libya. We were completely surprised because the vessel had been operating there for years – it has visited Derna five or six times in the last year.”
Damage to the tanker is still being assessed but it is thought there was no breach in the hull and no oil was spilled.
The Greek merchant marine ministry said the ship had been at anchor in the port when it came under attack.
Araevo’s crew of 26 consisted of 21 Filipinos, three Greeks and two Romanians. The victims were identified as a Greek and a Romanian.
The attack also underscores the chaos that has been gripping Libya.
Mr Mesmari’s government, based in Tobruk, is locked in a bloody confrontation with the self-proclaimed government in Tripoli, which is backed by militias – mostly from the western city of Misrata – and other Islamist groups.
The internationally-recognised Tobruk government has asked for foreign help to establish control over the country.
Last month, clashes between the two sides started a blaze at As Sidra, Libya’s largest oil terminal, which was put out only last Friday after burning for more than a week.
In November, an Islamist militia took over the country’s biggest oil field, but the government retaliated by shutting its pipeline.
The conflict has cut Libya’s crude oil production to about 315,000 barrels a day — a fraction of its normal level of about 1.5 million barrels a day.
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