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Russian Fuel Cargos Pile Up at Sea as South Korean Buyers Grow Cautious

Russian oil product cargos are piling up at sea as their South Korean buyers grow reluctant to go through with their deals amid a government crackdown on sanction evasion, Bloomberg has reported, citing unnamed sources.

According to Kpler data, there are over 2 million barrels of Russian naphtha sitting off the coast of Oman, which is significantly higher than the weekly average for January and February, which came in at some 790,000 barrels.

The Bloomberg sources said that the buildup was caused by the South Korean government’s closer scrutiny of incoming fuel cargos, which has made local refiners and petrochemical producers wary of buying Russian naphtha.

The tightening sanctions on Russia's oil exports are raising freight costs for moving Russian crude. The estimated direct cost to deliver Russian cargoes now is around 6-8% of the price of a barrel of crude leaving the western ports in Russia for Asia, according to data from commodity price reporting agency Argus crunched by Bloomberg.

Argus estimated in March that shipping a barrel of Russian crude from a port in the Baltic Sea to China has cost around $14.50 since December, with more than half of this per-barrel cost attributable to the Western sanctions.

The likely directly related-to-sanction cost to hire tankers to transport Russian oil is estimated at about $773 million since the end of December 2023, based on shipments tracked by Bloomberg.

Before the war in the Ukraine Russia was the top supplier of naphtha for South Korean petrochemicals makers but the war has changed this, per the Bloomberg report. Now South Korean plastics producers are importing more naphtha from places such as the UAE, Malaysia, Singapore, and Tunisia. South Korean processors are also importing more naphtha from Kuwait and Oman.

Russia, for its part, is shipping more naphtha to China, according to Kpler, as well as Taiwan. Last month, Russian imports accounted for more than half of the total naphtha shipments that Taiwan took in.

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By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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