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Largest Oil Tanker to Arrive in Russia Docks at Port

The largest oil tanker ever to arrive in Russia has docked at Murmansk, a port in the northwest, to be used as a floating storage tank for other ships to load and export crude to world markets.

Rosneft, Russia's largest state-owned oil producer, booked the 2.5 million-barrel crude tanker, Belokamenka, to store and transfer oil from smaller ships at Murmansk in the Barents Sea for 15 years. The vessel, previously called the Berge Pioneer, arrived at the port last week and is scheduled to load her first cargo in the next few days.

``We are just waiting for approval before she starts loading,'' said Cato Hellstenius, project manager at Oslo-based Bergesen d.y. ASA, owner of the vessel. ``It will take about a month for her to load to full capacity.'' He declined to give details on the cost of the contract.

Smaller vessels will deliver oil to the Belokamenka from the White Sea, where ports are too shallow for larger tankers to dock. Aframax tankers will then deliver the oil to Europe, helping Russian meet its goal of boosting exports to western markets.

Aframaxes will be able to load oil directly from the Belokamenka instead of waiting for the smaller tankers, each carrying between 10,000 tons to 20,000-ton cargoes, to arrive from Vitino and Arkhangelsk, oil terminals in the White Sea. Murmansk is the only deep-water port in northwest Russia that can handle large vessels.

The 24-year-old tanker has a capacity to load about 360,700 tons of oil and belongs to the largest class of tankers known as ultra large crude carriers. Vessels that are near to the end of their trading life are usually converted into floating production, storage and offloading vessels, at oil fields.

Russia plans to double the capacity of its port system to 530 million tons a year by 2010, with about half dedicated to handling oil.

The world's largest tanker is the Norwegian-registered, Jahre Viking, which has a cargo capacity of 564,763 tons. Built in 1976, she is 458 meters long and 69 meters wide. She was heavily damaged during the Iran-Iraq war in 1988 and underwent extensive renovation costing some $60 million.

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