River Oil Shipments May Face Ban in 2008

ST. PETERSBURG -- The government may impose limits on oil products shipments by river in 2008 following a large fuel oil spill from a river barge in the Kerch Strait earlier this month, industry and government sources said Wednesday.

"We will take serious measures to impose sailing bans on ships that are more than 25 years old. We will most likely ban floating storage operations," a Transportation Ministry source said.

Russian refiners use river barges and floating storage facilities to export around 3 million tons of fuel oil from ports on the Baltic Sea and another 2 million tons of refined products towards the Mediterranean market.

Products arrive in small barges from refineries, belonging to oil majors Rosneft, LUKoil, TNK-BP and the independent Ufa refiners. They are stored in bigger sea floating storage vessels and are then reloaded into tankers for re-export.

Operations stop during the winter, when rivers freeze, and peak in summer months, as they are usually cheaper than rail shipments of refined products.

The source in the Transportation Ministry said its Federal Sea and River Transportation Agency had already ordered the closure of the river navigation season in the south of Russia on Nov. 22, 10 days earlier than planned.