Bunker fuels remain readily available in ports across Europe and Africa, but rough winter weather looks set to disrupt bunkering in several ports across the Mediterranean, Black Sea and South Africa.
There is more fuel oil in independent storage tanks in ARA now than on average last year. Inventory levels are high even as refineries continue to curb production.
Some European low sulphur fuel oil fuel oil cargoes have been fixed for East of Suez markets. Spiking LNG prices have boosted fuel oil demand from power plants in Japan and South Korea and exasperated the shortage of fuel oil volumes in Asia. Bunker markets in Singapore and Fujairah remain tight amid cutbacks to regional refinery production. Favourable arbitrage economics have increased their appetite for European cargoes.
But while more European fuel oil cargoes are bound for Eastern markets, ARA and Gibraltar Strait ports show few signs of limited availability of any bunker grades. VLSFO and LSMGO stems are readily available with most bunker suppliers, and the ports have some of the shortest lead times for HSFO380 stems across global bunker hubs.
HSFO380 bookings in ARA and Gibraltar require 3-4 days ahead, which is much lower compared to the 11 days in Fujairah and 12-15 days in Singapore. HSFO380 is more limited in the Canary Islands, however, with six days of lead time needed and resupply not expected until April.
Strong winds and choppy seas have battered ports across the Mediterranean and Black Sea this week, causing several ports authorities to suspend port and bunker operations. Bunkering was suspended in Ceuta on Monday and again on Tuesday and Wednesday. Huelva suspended pilot services and closed the port on Tuesday.
Bunkering was temporarily suspended in Gibraltar at the start of the week, yet there are minimal bunker delays in Gibraltar and Algeciras with no vessels waiting currently, according to port agency MHBland. Moderate gale from the west is forecast in Gibraltar from Tuesday evening through most of Wednesday and could disrupt bunkering then.
High wind and moderate gale have limited bunkering to one of Malta’s six offshore bunker locations from Monday. Gale is forecast to strike the island state from the southwest on Wednesday and could hamper offshore bunkering further.
Weather conditions are more conducive to bunkering in the Canary Islands for the next couple of days, but high swell from the north could disrupt bunkering at outer anchorage in Las Palmas on Friday and Saturday.
Swell is set to push waves up to heights of 3.6 metres South Africa’s Port Elizabeth on Wednesday. Bunkering at the port’s outer anchorage can get suspended with swell above 2.5 metres.
HSFO remains tight in Port Elizabeth and other South African ports, possibly as a result of lower domestic production of the grade. Two of the country’s refineries, making up about half its production capacity, have been offline following explosions and fires at the plants last year. VLSFO and MGO are in better supply and available on shorter notice in South African ports.