Dubai — Saudi Aramco is sending its first cargo from its new Jizan refinery on the kingdom's west coast to Singapore, the clearest indicator that the 400,000 b/d facility is in advanced phases of startup.
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Aramco chartered the UACC Eagle to send 475,000 barrels of gasoil to Singapore from Jizan, according to data analytics firm Kpler. Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said in August that first processing at Jizan was expected to begin by the first quarter of 2021. Aramco declined to comment.
The UACC Eagle was heading for the Bab el-Mandeb strait, a sea route chokepoint between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East that connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea. Kpler said the destination is Singapore.
Saudi Arabia sent two shipments of crude to Jizan last year in preparation for startup, with 2.03 million barrels arriving in October and another 2 million barrels in November, according to Kpler data.
The newly constructed 400,000 b/d refinery, also spelled Jazan, will start with crude runs of 200,000 b/d before ramping up to 400,000 b/d, Nasser said in August. It had previously been expected to be commissioned at the end of 2019 and be ready for full operations in the second half of 2020.
The refinery, in the far south of Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea about 60 km from the Yemeni border, has been targeted in several missile attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, though Saudi officials say they have intercepted each attempted strike.
The Bab el-Mandeb is 18 miles wide at its narrowest point, limiting tanker traffic to two 2-mile-wide channels for inbound and outbound shipments, according to the US Energy Information Administration. It estimated 6.2 million b/d of crude oil, condensate and refined petroleum products flowed through the strait toward Europe, the US and Asia in 2018, an increase from 5.1 million b/d in 2014.
(Updates with Aramco's decline to comment.)