Oil slips as focus shifts from Saudi supply to global demand concerns

Workers start clearing up the damaged facilities at Saudi Aramco’s site in Abqaiq. (Reuters)
Updated 24 September 2019

Oil slips as focus shifts from Saudi supply to global demand concerns

  • ‘The demand side of the equation is back in focus’
  • Saudi Arabia has restored more than 75 percent of crude output lost after the attacks on its facilities

SINGAPORE: Oil prices eased on Tuesday as weak manufacturing data from Europe and Japan focused market attention on the gloomy outlook for demand and away from uncertainty around supply disruptions in Saudi Arabia.
Brent crude futures fell 35 cents to $64.42 a barrel by 0408 GMT, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures were at $58.36, down 28 cents.
“The demand side of the equation is back in focus,” said Michael McCarthy, senior market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, pointing to sluggish manufacturing numbers in leading economies in Europe as well as Japan.
“That’s why we’re seeing a little bit more (downward) pressure on Brent than West Texas at the moment.”
Still, oil prices remained at comparatively elevated levels for the year in the wake of the Sept. 14 attack on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil processing facility that halved output in the world’s top oil exporter.
Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia has restored more than 75 percent of crude output lost after the attacks on its facilities and will return to full volumes by early next week. But the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that repairs at the plants could take months longer than anticipated.
“Nine days after the oil facility attack in Saudi Arabia (SA), we still see divergent market views on when the damaged supplies will be restored,” analysts at Nomura said in a note.
“While the damaged plants may be repaired in the next couple of weeks, increasing actual oil supplies may require monitoring.”
European powers — Britain, Germany and France — backed the United States in blaming Iran for the Saudi oil attack, urging Tehran to agree to new talks with world powers on its nuclear and missile programs and regional security issues.
Meanwhile a preliminary Reuters poll found on Monday that US crude oil and distillate stockpiles were expected to have dropped last week.
Seven analysts polled by Reuters estimated, on average, that crude inventories fell 800,000 barrels in the week to Sept. 20.
The poll was conducted ahead of key reports from the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, to be released on Tuesday and from the Energy Information Administration on Wednesday.


Tanker off UAE sought by US over Iran sanctions ‘hijacked’

Updated 16 July 2020

Tanker off UAE sought by US over Iran sanctions ‘hijacked’

  • The circumstances of the hijack are still unclear and the boat has been tracked to Iranian waters

DUBAI: An oil tanker sought by the US over allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked on July 5 off the coast of the UAE, a seafarers organization said Wednesday.

Satellite photos showed the vessel in Iranian waters on Tuesday and two of its sailors remained in the Iranian capital.

It wasn’t immediately clear what happened aboard the Dominica-flagged MT Gulf Sky, though its reported hijacking comes after months of tensions between Iran and the US

David Hammond, the CEO of the United Kingdom-based group Human Rights at Sea, said he took a witness statement from the captain of the MT Gulf Sky, confirming the ship had been hijacked.

Hammond said that 26 of the Indian sailors on board had made it back to India, while two remained in Tehran, without elaborating.

“We are delighted to hear that the crew are safe and well, which has been our fundamental concern from the outset,” Hammond told The Associated Press.

Hammond said that he had no other details about the vessel.

TankerTrackers.com, a website tracking the oil trade at sea, said it saw the vessel in satellite photos on Tuesday in Iranian waters off Hormuz Island. 

Hormuz Island, near the port city of Bandar Abbas, is some 190 kilometers (120 miles) north of Khorfakkan, a city on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates where the vessel had been for months.

The Emirati government, the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not respond to requests for comment. Iranian state media did not immediately report on the vessel and Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In May, the US Justice Department filed criminal charges against two Iranians, accusing them of trying to launder some $12 million to purchase the tanker, at that time named the MT Nautica, through a series of front companies. 

The vessel then took on Iranian oil from Kharg Island to sell abroad, the US government said.

Court documents allege the scheme involved the Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which is its elite expeditionary unit, as well as Iran’s national oil and tanker companies. The two men charged, one of whom also has an Iraqi passport, remain at large.

“Because a US bank froze the funds related to the sale of the vessel, the seller never received payment,” the Justice Department said. “As a result, the seller instituted a civil action in the UAE to recover the vessel.”

That civil action was believed to be still pending, raising questions of how the tanker sailed away from the Emirates after being seized by authorities there.

Data from the MT Gulf Sky’s Automatic Identification System tracker shows it had been turned off around 4:30 a.m. on July 5, according to ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com. Ships are supposed to keep their AIS trackers on, but Iranian vessels routinely turn theirs off to mask their movements.

Meanwhile, the 28 Indian sailors on board the vessel found themselves stuck on board without pay for months, according to the International Labor Organization. It filed a report saying the vessel and its sailors had been abandoned by its owners since March off Khorfakkan. The ILO did not respond to a request for comment.

As tensions between Iran and the US heated up last year, tankers plying the waters of the Mideast became targets, particularly near the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the Arabian Gulf’s narrow mouth through which 20 percent of all oil passes. Suspected limpet mine attacks the US blamed on Iran targeted several tankers. Iran denied being involved, though it did seize several tankers.