January 29, 2012 / 10:12 AM / 7 years ago

Sudan held Vitol oil tankers may be free in days

DUBAI, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Two oil tankers carrying South Sudanese crude that were seized by Sudan earlier this month were chartered by global oil trading giant Vitol, trade sources said on Sunday, adding that the vessels should be free within days.

South Sudan shut down oil production over the weekend in protest over north Sudan seizing shipments in a dispute over how much landlocked South Sudan should pay to pump oil to Port Sudan in the north.

Sudan has already sold at least one tankerload of seized South Sudanese crude. But Khartoum said on Saturday it would free the remaining tankers to defuse the row over transit fees and Vitol should get its oil back early this week.

“There are Vitol tankers that are currently being held, they are carrying around 1.6 million barrels of oil in total,” a Gulf-based oil trader said, adding that the tankers may be freed in a day or two.

The hold up because of the row between the two former civil war foes should not affect the quality of the very heavy oil onboard the two Vitol tankers because it can be reheated on its voyage to market in Asia, the trader said.

Vitol, one of the world’s largest oil trading houses with average sales of over 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2010, is expanding its exploration and production interests in West Africa and Asia.

Oil is the lifeline of both countries’ economies but the south’s secession left Khartoum controlling just 125,000 bpd of production compared to South Sudan’s 350,000 bpd.

Oil provides about 98 percent of South Sudan’s income and is vital for developing an already poor country devastated by years of civil war.

China is the biggest buyer of oil from the two countries and the biggest investor in South Sudan’s oilfields.

Gulf trade sources said up to six tankers, including Chinese owned vessels, are due to load oil from South Sudan at Port Sudan over the next few days. (Reporting by Amena Bakr, additional reporting and editing by Daniel Fineren)

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