Bloomberg, January 23, 2020
Ships sit idle as General Haftar blockades oil ports. Ten tankers wait to load as political impasse persists
Off the coast of Libya, one man is holding up several million tons of steel.
Khalifa Haftar, the military leader who controls critical parts of the North African oil producer, ordered the closure of its ports and key oil fields at the weekend while haggling over a truce with the national government.
As he rebuffs pressure from world leaders to reach a settlement, a line of oil tankers waiting to load is forming at Libya’s idle ports. Crude exports that would typically exceed 1 million barrels a day have ground to a halt.
Ten ships able to carry about 8 million barrels are floating in the country’s waters, mostly around the key terminals of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, according to tanker tracking monitored by Bloomberg.
Libya primarily ships to Europe, though cargoes can go to the U.S. and China, and refiners prize its low-density, high-quality crude for the ease of processing it into fuels like gasoline.
Although it’s the biggest supply disruption since a missile strike briefly disabled half of Saudi Arabia’s oil capacity in September, crude markets have shown a surprising level of indifference to the Libyan crisis.
Consumers remain comfortably supplied by a wave of new production ranging from the U.S. shale patch to Guyana, and traders are increasingly focused on whether demand will hold up in a deeply uncertain macroeconomic climate.
Besides, refiners have grown accustomed to erratic output from Libya, where political conflict since the fall of Muammar Gadaffi has knocked out about 40% of capacity for most of the last decade.
Markets could soon take notice if the disruption drags on, however, according to Amrita Sen, chief analyst at consultants Energy Aspects Ltd. in London.
As the snarl of ships in Libya’s waters shows no signs of moving, that moment may be getting closer.
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