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Bizarre Tanker Cooperation Prompts Questions If Qatar, Saudi Feud Is Staged

Either the blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and its allies (recall the Saudi ultimatum expires on July 3) and the whole Qatar "crisis" is the most staged and produced diplomatic stunt since last summer's Turkish "coup", or for some unknown reason, the worse the diplomatic relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia get, the more they cooperate in the only industry that matters for Saudi Arabia.

According to a Bloomberg report, even as Saudi Arabia leads three other Arab nations in accusing Qatar of links to terror groups and being too close to Iran, one thing has become increasingly clear in the oil market: tensions have yet to reach a point where the world’s biggest crude exporter is disrupting its tiny neighbor’s shipments. Specifically, despite the sudden feud, Qatar has maintained longstanding practice of loading crude onto tankers with Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. tracking of tankers compiled by Bloomberg shows.

The number of tankers that are filling with Qatari crude along with that of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates has actually increased since tensions escalated on June 5, according to Bloomberg calculations. The three countries’ joint loadings of crude remain largely unaffected since the dispute that broke out June 5. Since then, 17 tankers have loaded crude in Qatar and either Saudi Arabia or the U.A.E., or both. There were 16 over an equal period before June 5.

The full details:

  • Co- loadings where a tanker collects barrels from Qatar as well as Saudi Arabia and/or the U.A.E. have actually risen slightly since June 5, when the diplomatic dispute escalated
  • 17 tankers co-loaded in the 25 days since then
  • 16 tankers co-loaded in the 25 days prior
  • Percentage of vessels that co-loaded in Qatar and only Saudi Arabia rose, from 50% before dispute began to 59% since
  • Percentage of vessels that co-loaded in Qatar and only U.A.E. slipped from 25% before dispute to 23.5% after

The full table of co-loadings is shown below, courtesy of Bloomberg data:

As Bloomberg adds, since the June 5 diplomatic crisis, vessels including the Apollo Dream, DHT Redwood and Maran Carina have co-loaded in Qatar and both Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. Others, like the DHT Falcon, have loaded in only Saudi Arabia and Qatar, while tankers including the Takamine, have taken on crude in U.A.E. and Qatar.

While relations between Qatar and its nearest Persian Gulf neighbors have frayed, shared oil trade with Kuwait, which isn’t part of the dispute, has actually intensified. In the 25 days leading up to the dispute, four tankers co-loaded in Qatar and Kuwait. Since June 5, that number has more than doubled, to nine.

One explanation, proposed by Bloomberg, is that this is simply "pragmatism":

The ability to cooperate in the tanker market despite diplomatic ties being cut shows how pragmatism often wins out over politics when it comes to the energy market. Were Saudi Arabia to block shared loadings, the kingdom would have created a logistical challenge for its own clients, forcing them to reorganize dozens of cargoes. Such disruptions can also reduce vessel supply and drive up freight costs.

Of course, the flip side is that by not halting co-loadings it makes the Qatari blockade appear like just another paper tiger.

While relations between Qatar and its nearest Persian Gulf neighbors have frayed, shared oil trade with Kuwait, which isn’t part of the dispute, has actually intensified. In the 25 days leading up to the dispute, four tankers co-loaded in Qatar and Kuwait. Since June 5, that number has more than doubled, to nine.

“We’ve seen an easing of the initial uncertainty in the market about the scale of the disruption that would be felt on co-loadings,” Richard Mallinson, a geopolitical analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd. in London, said by phone. Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. may be hesitant to take any steps that could harm their reputations in the eyes of international buyers, he said.

Alternatively, if the Qatar "crisis" is nothing more than just one global spectacle for media and popular consumption meant to scapegoat Qatar for "funding terrorism", something Saudi Arabia is far more guilty of, expect to see co-loading collapse now that Saudi Arabia discovers that its "bizarre" cooperation has been exposed, prompting its allies to ask just what is going on.