Saudi Aramco Seen Booking Tanker to U.S. at Lowest Rate of 2013

Saudi Arabian Oil Co., the world’s biggest state-owned crude producer, chartered a tanker to haul a cargo to the U.S. Gulf Coast next month at what may be this year’s lowest rate.

The Eagle Vancouver will load in the Persian Gulf on March 1, according to an e-mailed report from Norwegian shipbroker PF Bassoe AS. The vessel is managed by AET Shipmanagement (Singapore) Pte Ltd., according to the company’s website. It was chartered at a cost of 16.25 industry-standard Worldscale points, Bassoe said. That would be the lowest rate so far in 2013 for the route, figures compiled by Bloomberg showed.

Hire costs for tankers hauling Middle East crude to the Gulf Coast were assessed at 17.77 Worldscale points today by the London-based Baltic Exchange, down 28 percent from the start of the year, figures compiled by Bloomberg showed. Saudi Aramco, as the oil producer is known, booked at least three vessels in February, five in December and eight ships in both October and November, according to shipbrokers.

A spokesman for AET declined to comment by e-mail today. An e-mail and phone call to Saudi Aramco’s public-relations department weren’t immediately returned today.

The Worldscale system is a method for pricing oil cargoes on thousands of trade routes. Each individual voyage’s flat rate, expressed in dollars a ton, is set once a year. The Eagle Vancouver’s booking means the hire cost is 16.25 percent of the nominal Worldscale cost for that voyage. Brokers report tanker bookings when the accords are provisional, and charters are sometimes canceled.

Joint Venture

Units of Saudi Aramco and Royal Dutch Shell Plc operate three Gulf Coast refineries through joint venture Motiva Enterprises LLC. Motiva’s Port Arthur plant in Texas planned to stop a delayed coker, a sulfur recovery unit and the smallest of three crude units for 38 days of planned maintenance, two people familiar with the operations said last week, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public. The refinery has the capacity to process 600,000 barrels a day.

The Port Arthur plant, which last month restarted a 325,000 barrel-a-day crude unit after unplanned repairs, is processing about 260,000 to 270,000 barrels a day, said the people familiar with the operations.

A one-way journey to the Gulf Coast from Saudi Arabia takes about 40 days to complete, according to Athens-based Optima Shipbrokers Ltd. That implies the Eagle Vancouver may unload its cargo as late as the second week of April.

VLCCs hauling Middle East crude to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico were losing $30,449 daily on the route, according to today’s figures from the exchange. Its assessments don’t reflect speed cuts aimed at reducing fuel costs, vessel owners’ largest expense. Each VLCC can hold 2 million barrels of oil, or 280,000 metric tons.

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