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Portland receives rare S. Korean gasoline cargo ahead of BP Cherry Point turnarounds

Houston — A gasoline cargo from South Korea arrived this week into Portland, Oregon, for the first time since at least summer 2015, when S&P Global Platts Analytics started compiling US Customs data of such imports.

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US West Coast market sources attributed this unusual arbitrage to the start of refinery turnarounds at BP Cherry Point, Washington,a key source of refined product in the Pacific Northwest.

US Customs data show that the clean tanker known as Azalea Galaxy brought 86,688 barrels of gasoline from Onsan, South Korea, to Portland on Monday. Phillips 66 was listed as the shipper with MIECO listed as the consignee. Data from cFlow, Platts trade flow software, confirms the Azalea Galaxy made this trip over the course of about two weeks.

The customs data show that while it is rare for refined product to be imported from Asia into Portland, it is not unprecedented. Most recently, on December 17, 2017, a cargo of a renewable diesel fuel arrived from Singapore.

It is far more common for gasoline to come into Oregon through the Port of Vancouver, Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland, which the Parkland Fuels-owned Burnaby, British Columbia, refinery can use to export refined product to the US. That refinery has been down for several weeks now due to planned seasonal maintenance "near completion," according to a Parkland Fuels spokesman.

A market source active in USWC gasoline trading on Wednesday said that the gasoline market in Portland seems short this week because "BP Cherry Point is starting a major turnaround next week."

A second USWC source said gasoline going from South Korea to the Pacific Northwest is "very rare," though it is less surprising in the context of imminent turnarounds at BP Cherry Point, which is "very important" for supplying the region with fuel.

According to BP's website, the Cherry Point refinery processes up to 236,000 b/d of crude oil, roughly 90% of which becomes transportation fuel.

Platts refinery data show this facility is slated for repair work from April 1 through May 1. A spokeswoman at BP Cherry Point did not immediately return a call from Platts seeking comment on the details of these turnarounds.

The first source said that ahead of these turnarounds, "BP has the big 80,000 mt ships coming" into the Pacific Northwest region, though he said these vessels usually carry diesel and jet fuel.

The first source added that given the limited size of the Portland gasoline cash market, he would expect a gasoline cargo of this size to impact differentials.

Portland suboctane gasoline was assessed Wednesday at May NYMEX RBOB futures plus 15.5 cents/gal, unchanged from Tuesday's assessment. Platts data show that the differential is now down 50 points from its assessment on March 29, which could mean that the supply onboard the Azalea Galaxy was large enough to put some downward pressure on suboctane cash trading values.

Looking at shipping markets, freight on the South Korea-USWC run on the basis of a 30,000 mt cargo was assessed at lump sum $1.05 million Wednesday, having fallen $35,000 from Tuesday. Demand for Medium Range tankers on the route slipped due to an overabundance of tonnage following the Easter holidays.

"There are still a few uncovered cargoes out there but there is a need for significantly more to keep this list manageable," a shipbroker said. The market was expected to continue falling off as the week progressed, he added.

Aside from the fact that its cargo was holding gasoline, the Azalea Galaxy's voyage to Portland did not appear to be unusual a shipping source said. "Onsan-USWC is nothing new, Trans-Pacific exists," he said.

--Seth Clare,

--Alan Tomczak,

--Edited by Richard Rubin,