By Robin Paxton and Sambit Mohanty –
SINGAPORE, Dec 28 (Reuters) – Shipments of oil, metals and agricultural products around the Indian Ocean have escaped most of the devastation wreaked by an earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 28,400 people across Asia.
Well-protected ports and oil refining operations have been largely unaffected, while major rice and soymeal-producing areas are far enough inland to have avoided the giant waves that crashed into coastlines in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India.
But commodity traders said rubber shipments from Indonesia’s Sumatra island, close to the offshore epicentre of the world’s biggest earthquake in 40 years, had been delayed due to damage to road and rail links to the coast.
“Suppliers have been calling to say there are delays because bridges have been wiped out in Sumatra,” a trader with a large Chinese rubber importer said.
Indonesia is the world’s second-largest rubber producer after Thailand, where no delays to shipments have been reported.
Cargoes already on the water when the earthquake struck had not been affected, traders and shipping industry officials said.
They said oil and bulk commodity tankers, built to withstand high waves, would probably not even have been aware of the tsunami as it picked up force far below the water’s surface.
“Tankers on the sea usually don’t even notice tsunamis,” a spokesman for the Japanese Shipowners’ Association said.
“Tsunami waves usually get powerful in shallow and narrow-shaped bays. But ports for big tankers are not usually located in such bays, so tankers are immune from the impact.”
OIL FACILITIES SURVIVE
OPEC member Indonesia’s main oil-producing region on Sumatra is to the south of the devastated Aceh region, where Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the death toll could reach 25,000.
The Arun liquefied natural gas plant, at the tip of Aceh, was spared by good fortune, said Wimpi Tjetjep, chief of research and development at Indonesia’s mines and energy ministry.
“The LNG port escaped from the tsunami because the wave, when it arrived at the port, was not as big as in other areas. This was just luck,” he said.
Exxon Mobil Corp. , which operates offshore gas fields that feed the LNG terminal, said it had briefly halted some operations on Sunday but restored them later that day.
In southern India, major ports resumed operations after brief disruptions.
A senior official at Madras Port said operations resumed on Tuesday morning and loading and unloading of six ships, carrying edible oils, coal and iron ore, were in progress.
“The damage to the port is minimal and we plan to berth five more vessels, including two oil tankers and two container ships, today,” he said. “We will start handling crude oil tomorrow.”
An official at the 190,000-barrels-per-day Chennai Petroleum Corp. Ltd. refinery, which imports crude oil through Madras, said the plant had adequate supplies to continue normal operations throughout the port closure.
“The refinery is running at full steam and we do not see any disruption,” the official said.
SOYMEAL, RICE SHIPMENTS
Soymeal shipments from India were unaffected, traders said. The peak season started in November and runs until March.
“The only port which has been affected badly is Madras. Not much soymeal goes out from there anyway,” said R. Ravi director of Agrocorp International Pte Ltd., a Singapore-based commodities trading firm.
Two ships sailed late on Monday and five ships loaded on Tuesday at Kakinada port, which handles mainly edible oils and liquid ammonia, an official at the south Indian port said.
“There will be no major impact on the supply situation and prices of vegetable oils in India,” said Sandeep Bajoria, chairman of the Central Organisation of Oil Industry and Trade, adding availability of domestic oil was also good.
A vessel was also unloading sugar at Tuticorin port.
Most rice shipments out of Thailand, the world’s largest exporter of the grain, are also expected to move on schedule.
“The areas in Thailand that have been affected are mainly in the south, which is not the major rice exporting area,” said Charoen Laothamatas, secretary-general of the Thai Rice Exporters’ Association.
Also in Thailand, the tin smelter on the holiday island of Phuket was operating as normal, said an official for Thaisarco, the company that operates the plant.
Thaisarco is in southeast Phuket, which was not as badly affected as the island’s west coast.
A Singapore-based edible oils trader said palm oil shipments from Indonesia would not be affected.
“Palm is not grown close to coastal areas,” he said. “As far as shipments are concerned, there are not many scheduled at the moment.”
Tokyo rubber futures settled lower on Tuesday, the last trading session of the year, a day after hitting a five-week high on supply worries. Rubber futures in Shanghai were not affected. (Additional reporting by Jonathan Leff in Singapore, Hari Ramachandran and Naveen Thukral in New Delhi, Ikuko Kao in Tokyo, Lucy Hornby in Shanghai and Muklis Ali in Jakarta)
Source: Reuters via Yahoo