Saudi crude tankers gather off Oman after Red Sea strait closure

02 August 2018
Bahri-owned vessels exploring alternate transit routes to transport Aramco crude and refined products

Very large crude carriers (VLCCs) have started to gather off the southern coast of Oman, following Saudi Aramco’s decision to halt oil shipments through the Bab el-Mandeb strait on the Red Sea, affecting its access to Europe.

Three part-laden VLCCs owned by Saudi state shipping company Bahri — the Marjan, the Khuzama and the TI Hawtah — have interrupted their voyages over the past 24 hours to wait at the port of Salalah in southern Oman, according to S&P Global Platts trade flow software cFlow.

Aramco temporarily suspended its oil cargoes from passing through the Bab el-Mandeb strait on 26 July after it said two of its VLCCs were attacked by Houthi militants.

The strait is a critical chokepoint through which some 4.8 million barrels a day of crude and refined products are shipped, and the bulk of Europe’s crude imports from the Middle East traverse through it on their way to the Sumed pipeline or the Suez Canal.

Waiting at Salalah would allow the tankers to resume their journeys promptly, if Aramco resumes shipping through the strait within the next few days.

Two more Bahri-owned VLCCs, the Arsan and the Abqaiq, appear to have shut off their transponders and have not updated their location through the automatic identification system since 23 July and 25 July respectively, according to cFlow.

An unladen VLCC, the Hilwah, passed through the strait on 29 July and is headed for Ras Tanura on Saudi Arabia’s east coast. It may have been permitted to take this route because it was carrying no cargo.

And the Khafji, another Bahri-owned VLCC that appears to be carrying a cargo loaded on the east coast of Saudi Arabia, appears to be heading for Bab el-Mandeb on its way to Ain Sokhna in Egypt. It remains unclear whether its voyage will be allowed to continue.

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