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First Suezmax for West Africa in Jan loading fuel oil in Rotterdam

London β€” The first Suezmax booked to load fuel oil in Rotterdam for discharge in the West African port of Lome in January was booked late Wednesday, shipping sources said.

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The Suezmax Seaways Mantauk is expected to load fuel oil around January 26 from Rotterdam for discharge in the Togan port, sources said.

Shipments of high sulfur fuel oil to West Africa from Europe have dwindled over recent months, sources said, as volatile pricing has seen them go elsewhere.

"It's tight in Lome," a bunker supplier at the port said Thursday morning.

The fixture comes on top of the three Suezmaxes and two VLCCs, which can load around 130,000 mt and 270,000 mt of fuel oil each respectively, booked to load up in Rotterdam in January for discharge in Singapore.

These draws from Europe are a function of relatively steep backwardation on 3.5% FOB Rotterdam intermonth spreads, with January-February last assessed at $1.25/mt Wednesday, compared with a discount of minus $1.75/mt this time last year.

Despite the prompt weakness in 2019, the 3.5% FOB Rotterdam barge forward curve remains positive through 2019 compared with assessed levels this time last year, when the intermonth spreads priced at discounts through to April 2018.

The more dominant backwardated structure for 2019 is largely down to a tighter fuel oil complex as refinery upgrades have been introduced in Europe, including ExxonMobil's delayed coker at Antwerp, in a move to produce higher volumes of distillate product at the expense of fuel oil, in preparation for the International Maritime Organization's 0.5% global marine sulfur cap to be introduced on January 1, 2020.

The 380 CST fuel market at Lome was assessed at $440/mt delivered Wednesday. More competitive prices are typically offered at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands to the north and Durban, South Africa, to the south. 380 CST fuel oil at Las Palmas was assessed Wednesday at $377/mt delivered. Higher quality 180 CST fuel oil was assessed at Durban Wednesday at $388/mt delivered.

Typically high and low sulfur fuel oil cargoes are exported to West Africa from Europe on both a contract and spot basis.

--Tamara Sleiman, tamara.sleiman@spglobal.com

--Tom Washington, thomas.washington@spglobal.com

--Edited by Jonathan Loades-Carter, jonathan.carter@spglobal.com