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Saudi Arabia Doubles Tankers to U.S. as Motiva Unit Seen Opening

Saudi Arabian Oil Co. doubled the number of crude tankers booked to ship oil to the Gulf of Mexico this month as two people familiar with its U.S. refinery operations said a damaged crude unit may restart in December.

The company’s shipping unit booked eight very large crude carriers to load about 16 million barrels in October, compared with four ships a month so far this year, according to data from Athens-based Optima Shipbrokers Ltd. Motiva Enterprises LLC, which the state-controlled oil producer owns with Royal Dutch Shell Plc, will open the 325,000 barrels-a-day unit as early as the first week of December, the people said Oct. 5.

The 600,000 barrels-a-day refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, halted the unit in June following contamination that caused cracks in stainless steel pipes. Repairs may be completed this month and testing will take place in November, said the people, declining to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak for the refinery.

The tanker charters were arranged by Saudi Arabian Oil’s Vela International Marine Ltd. unit. A call to Vela was referred to the parent company, which didn’t immediately reply to an e-mail and phone call today seeking comment.

Motiva said July 19 it expected to restart the unit early in 2013. The crude unit began operating in May as part of a $10 billion expansion that pushed the refinery’s crude capacity to almost 600,000 barrels a day, making it the largest in the U.S.

A one-way journey to the U.S. Gulf from Saudi Arabia takes about 40 days to complete, according to Optima. That implies the cargoes will probably be discharged in the second or third week of December. Brokers report tanker bookings when the deals are provisional and charters are sometimes canceled.

VLCCs hauling Middle East crude to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico are losing $22,840 a day, according to data from the London-based Baltic Exchange.

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