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Feature: European ports expand LSFO storage in preparation for IMO 2020

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Feature: European ports expand LSFO storage in preparation for IMO 2020

London — European ports have been expanding their low sulfur fuel oil storage capacity ahead of IMO 2020 -- a lower sulfur cap on marine fuels, mandated by the International Maritime Organization, from January 1, 2020.

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The global cap on sulfur content in bunker fuel will be cut to 0.5% from 3.5%, and most bunker fuel demand was expected to shift from high sulfur fuel oil to very low sulfur fuels or marine gasoil.

The Scottish port of Aberdeen recently became the latest harbor in Northwest Europe to announce additional storage capacity to ensure supply of compliant 0.5% products. Peterson Energy Logistics invested GBP3 million ($4 million) into a new 4,000 cu m tank for storing marine gasoil.

That tank's installation -- operations are scheduled to begin this summer -- and a 1,500 cu m tank that has also been recently installed, Peterson's MGO capacity in Aberdeen will rise to 11,000 cu m.

Earlier this month, bunker supplier Stena Oil said it will lease and operate a planned new oil products terminal at Frederikshavn, Denmark, from the fourth quarter. The terminal is designed to meet demand for new, lower sulfur marine fuels that will be compulsory from next year.

"Its flexibility and multiple segregations will make it ready to...accommodate products complying with the new 2020 IMO sulfur regulations," a company spokesman said.

The terminal will consist of 11 storage tanks and, with a total storage capacity of 74,400 cu m for maritime products and waste water, will be the largest in Scandinavia.

Meanwhile in Rotterdam, Vopak began maintenance at its storage facility at the start of the year as an initiative to invest in its oil hub terminals in preparation for the IMO 2020.

The transition to focus on offering greater capacity for 0.5% compliant fuel has limited available storage for HSFO, which the majority of the market is still using ahead of 2020.

TIGHTER STORAGE MARKET

In bunker hubs such as Rotterdam, the move to offer dirty tank space to allow tank leaseholders to begin blending 0.5% has contributed to the backwardated structure on the 3.5% FOB Rotterdam barge curve.

Additionally restricted HSFO storage in Rotterdam has created ongoing barge loading delays as barge owners have fewer options to load HSFO bunkers.

"We do not have any open fuel oil capacity, so we cannot accommodate new storage requirements," a tank operator in the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp trading hub said.

"For existing customers the systems have been or are being prepared for low sulfur (dedicated lines, separated systems etc.)," the operator said.

Many companies plan to be ready by October for IMO 2020 to ensure they are fully compliant by January, increasing the demand for 'new fuels'.

However, others want to ensure they continue to maximize the hefty discount HSFO bunkers will carry as the cap approaches.

Further afield, Singapore has been drawing LSFO and components from Europe to the world's largest bunker hub to prepare to blend down to the new 0.5% specification.

Stocks of low sulfur fuel oil with maximum 0.5% sulfur components have increased to 3 million mt or more around Singapore as traders prepare for IMO 2020, market sources said.

"Tankage is now tight in Singapore," the tank operator said. "There was a lot of open capacity in the region only a few months ago, and almost all of it is now taken on a spot basis."

Traders said stocks had been around 1 million mt in early March, while about 3-4 VLCCs had been taken for storing LSFO components. They estimated there were now 10 VLCCs storing product.

The increasing amount of LSFO storage in Singapore may also support the eastern HSFO market in coming months due to tighter conditions.

MOVE TOWARDS FLOATING STORAGE

LSFO components stored around Singapore include low sulfur crude oil, light cycle oil, vacuum gasoil and slurry oil, market sources said.

Most stocks are in VLCCs as the tankers have heating facilities, but some are also in landed terminals, market sources said.

Some of the floating storage vessels are cheap because they only store the products, while others are more sophisticated with blending and heating capabilities and these compete with land based tankage.

In Europe, a 441,561 dwt ULCC, the Oceania, has been anchored off the east coast of Malta since early January, according to Platts cFlow, trade flow software.

Sources said the vessel has been loading 0.5% fuel oil ahead of IMO 2020 to supply the Euronav fleet with compliant marine fuel in 2020. According to the website, Euronav has 72 vessels.