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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crude Season Opens on the Volga

Volgotanker, Europe's biggest crude and oil products river shipping firm, said Tuesday that it had opened the navigation season and sent its first cargoes for export to the West from Black Sea ports.

But it said northern routes would remain closed until the end of April -- two weeks longer than normal -- after the severe winter.

A Volgotanker official said the firm loaded the year's first cargoes from Samara refineries on the Volga River and was shipping them to the Black Sea port of Kavkaz for export to international markets.

Volgotanker controls 60 percent of Russia's crude and refined products exports carried by river.

"After a difficult winter we still have heavy ice on our northern routes, where navigation can start only around the end of April with the first cargoes arriving in St. Petersburg on May 10-12," the official said. Navigation on the northern routes normally starts in mid-April.

Oil producers in Russia, the world's second-largest oil exporter, are resorting to every possible means to maximize the oil they can ship to lucrative Western markets as production continues to boom but pipeline capacity is limited.

The country produces 8.2 million barrels per day and exports 3.2 million to 3.3 million bpd via state pipeline monopoly Transneft.

Traders estimate volumes leaving the country by rail and river and thus bypassing Transneft at 600,000 bpd and put real volumes of crude oil exported from and via Russia by all means and routes at around 4 million bpd.

Russia also exports around 2 million bpd of refined products, mainly fuel oil and gas oil.

River shipping firms, including Volgotanker, collect crude and oil products from inland refineries, mainly in the Volga region in the cities of Samara, Saratov, Perm, Ufa and Volgograd, and ship them mainly to the Black Sea ports of Kavkaz in Russia and Ukraine's Kerch for re-export.

From northern refineries, including Yaroslavl, the material is shipped via canal and river to the port of St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland or to Kandalaksha on the White Sea.

Volgotanker transported 11.8 million metric tons (235,000 bpd) of crude oil and products in 2002, of which around 7 million tons (140,000 bpd) was exported to the West.

The official said the firm planned to increase transportation volumes by 11 percent this year.