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[LONDON] As Saudi Arabia leads three other Arab nations in accusing Qatar of links to terror groups and being too close to Iran, one thing is becoming increasingly clear in the oil market: tensions have yet to reach a point where the world's biggest crude exporter is disrupting its tiny neighbor's shipments.
The number of tankers that are filling with Qatari crude along with that of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates actually increased since tensions escalated on June 5, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg for the 25 days before and after that date.
The ability to cooperate in the tanker market despite diplomatic ties being cut shows how pragmatism often wins out over politics when it comes to the energy market. Were Saudi Arabia to block shared loadings, the kingdom would have created a logistical challenge for its own clients, forcing them to reorganize dozens of cargoes. Such disruptions can also reduce vessel supply and drive up freight costs.
"We've seen an easing of the initial uncertainty in the market about the scale of the disruption that would be felt on co-loadings," Richard Mallinson, a geopolitical analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd in London, said by phone. Saudi Arabia and UAE may be hesitant to take any steps that could harm their reputations in the eyes of international buyers, he said.
The three countries' joint loadings of crude remain largely unaffected since the dispute that broke out June 5. Since then, 17 tankers have loaded crude in Qatar and either Saudi Arabia or the UAE, or both. There were 16 over an equal period before June 5.
Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt moved to isolate Qatar over its alleged support for terror groups and ties with Iran. Port authorities in Saudi Arabia and UAE initially appeared to restrict the movement of ships to and from Qatar, sowing confusion for scores of shippers that had oil, food and other cargoes already on the water or en route.
However, it appears any restrictions so far had little to no effect on crude oil loadings from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, all members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. In addition, the spat hasn't affected oil prices. Brent crude, the global benchmark, slipped into a bear market earlier this month and is now trading near US$47.80 a barrel, about 3.4 per cent below its close on June 5.
Since that date, vessels including the Apollo Dream, DHT Redwood and Maran Carina have co-loaded in Qatar and both Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Others, like the DHT Falcon, have loaded in only Saudi Arabia and Qatar, while tankers including the Takamine, have taken on crude in UAE and Qatar.
While relations between Qatar and its nearest Persian Gulf neighbors have frayed, shared oil trade with Kuwait, which isn't part of the dispute, has actually intensified. In the 25 days leading up to the dispute, four tankers co-loaded in Qatar and Kuwait. Since June 5, that number has more than doubled, to nine.
Shipping and energy analysts have noted that ships visiting the UAE port of Fujairah, a key refueling post for hundreds of tankers entering and leaving the Gulf each month, may have to alter their routes to deal with restrictions.
Fuel oil stockpiles at Fujairah grew for a fifth straight week, Facts Global Energy said in a research note late Thursday. Because of the shipping restrictions, Qatari vessels "now have to find alternative ports to refuel and this could be contributing to the stock builds," it said.