The Dark Secrets of the Trillion-Dollar Oil Trade

Tankers full of oil its owners don’t want to sell. Shady deals with brutal regimes. Vast profits. Pollution scandals. Cahal Milmo investigates a very murky business in the Independent:

With a combined capacity for 313,000 tonnes of oil, the Delta Ios and the NS Burgas supertankers were launched two months ago to criss-cross the globe in search of trade. Instead, the vast vessels were to be found yesterday lying idle off the coast of Singapore after their owners were paid by two of the world’s richest and most secretive oil companies to turn them into floating petrochemical warehouses.

At first glance, the decision by Trafigura Group and Vitol Holding BV to charter the newly built ships at an estimated cost of £47,000 a day to do nothing for up to four months in South-east Asia while laden with cargos of diesel worth at least £77m per vessel makes little economic sense.

When this is combined with the fact that the Delta Ios and the NS Burgas are just two ships in an enormous fleet of tankers which are currently being paid about £80m a month by independent oil traders like Trafigura and Vitol, as well as giants such as Shell, to stay anchored around the globe with anything between 50 and 150 million barrels of redundant crude on board, it seem that the ruthless barons of black gold must be losing money as fast as they can make it.