A report quoting unnamed four traders, has said that between 20 and 25 shipments of Nigerian crude for April loading are still floating on the high seas in Europe, searching for buyers.

This development comes on the heels of another report that lingering strikes and protests in the French refining sector and seasonal maintenance at plants elsewhere in Europe cut into the OPEC producer’s sales.

Observers say that’s a much weaker position than normal for this time of the month — when trade should be moving on to May’s barrels — and the prices the shipments can fetch are dropping, they said. Each cargo is about a million barrels of crude.
Rated as one of Nigeria’s biggest patrons, France took an average of 110,000 barrels a day of Nigeria’s oil over the past year, according to tanker-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.

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But that demand has shriveled this month, with France’s overall crude imports dropping by half in March as the nationwide dispute over pension reforms escalates, according to Wood MacKenzie.

Well over 80% of France’s 1.1 million-barrels-a-day processing capacity is halted or in the process of shutting down because of the industrial action, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The traders also assert that, in addition to the impact of the strikes, other plants in Europe are also buying less crude because of seasonal maintenance.

“Capacity is offline at some typical destinations for Nigerian crude such as Spain’s San Roque refinery and Italy’s Sarroch plant,” Bloomberg said.

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Facilities that have halted capacity for work also include Shell’s Pernis refinery near Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest plant.
“The Nigerian backlog is a combination of higher freight costs, lower tanker availability — specifically into Europe — as well as lower overall demand for West Africa light sweet as crude from other regions is deluging markets,” Viktor Katona, lead crude analyst at Kpler, was quoted saying.

Northwest Europe’s reduced buying matters for West Africa because alternative outlets are limited, traders said. Mediterranean refiners can choose to skip Nigerian supply in favor of cheap North African barrels that ship more quickly to the region, or they can process some of the large volumes of US West Texas Intermediate crude that have been arriving in Europe in recent months.

Long-haul buyers like Indian Oil Corp. and Indonesia’s Pertamina have been taking more discounted Russian volumes this year, easing their need for Nigerian supply. China’s Unipec favors processing oil from Angola, where only around five April shipments are still available, the traders said.

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Some people have identified another driver for the unsold glut; being the country’s revival of crude production that was shuttered in recent months by theft and technical issues, such as the nation’s Bonny Light stream.

It is expected that Nigeria’s export capacity should now exceed what the market needs by end of 1Q, according to Katona.

By Ken Okoye

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