BP Says Pipeline Restarting

Tankers will begin loading oil Tuesday from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline for the first time since a fire affected the main outlet for Azeri crude to U.S. and European markets almost three weeks ago.

"The first tanker will dock after midnight tonight," said Murat Lecompte, an Istanbul-based spokesman for BP, the main operator of the BTC link. "Loadings have not actually started yet," he said, revising an earlier statement from BP saying tankers were being loaded Monday.

Tuesday's planned loadings follow repairs and testing after the pipe was closed Aug. 5, when an explosion sparked a blaze on the 1,750-kilometer pipeline. The BTC carries as much as 1 million barrels of Azeri crude each day through Georgia to Turkey's Mediterranean coast.

"Flows will increase throughout the day today," Lecompte said. "Maximum rates will be reached overnight."

Azerbaijan sent oil to export via Iran because of the disruption, with Iranian Oil Terminals receiving the first cargo for transit Sunday, according to the Iranian Oil Ministry's news agency, Shana.

Iran can handle 200,000 barrels per day of Caspian and Central Asian crude and could boost the volume to 500,000 bpd under swap agreements, Shana said on its web site. It didn't specify how much Azeri crude Iran received.

BTC is pumping at about 70 percent capacity, said Botas spokesman Huseyin Sagir.