* Firm co-owned by Trafigura and Angola enters UK
* UK increasingly reliant on fuel imports
* Will increase Puma’s storage capacity by 25 pct (Adds details, analyst comment)
By David Sheppard and Himanshu Ojha
LONDON, March 13 (Reuters) - The shuttered Milford Haven oil refinery in Wales will be turned into a storage site by Puma Energy, as the firm co-owned by Swiss commodity giant Trafigura and Angola’s state oil company looks to capitalise on Britain’s growing need for fuel imports.
Puma Energy bought the plant and three inland storage terminals from Murphy Oil as the U.S.-based firm winds down its UK subsidiary, Murco, after suffering from weak demand and growing international competition from newer refineries.
The raft of refinery closures in Britain in recent years has left it increasingly reliant on shipping in fuel from overseas, with net imports of petroleum products tripling last year. That is creating opportunities for storage and distribution firms.
“(Puma) will make Milford Haven a key site securing the supply of energy to the UK and wider region during a period of change in European energy infrastructure,” Puma said on Friday.
A deal to keep the 130,000 barrels per day plant operating as a refinery collapsed in November, putting 450 jobs at risk.
Puma said it would welcome “all the terminal and distribution employees”.
The purchase, the terms of which was not disclosed, is Puma’s first foray into Britain and gives it access to a deep-water port on Wales’ southwest coast.
It will boost Puma’s global oil storage capacity by around 25 percent to 7 million cubic metres, the equivalent of approximately 44 million barrels of oil.
The firm has been expanding from its roots as a fuel storage and distribution company focused largely on Latin America and Africa. On Friday, Puma also bought BP Plc’s Australian bitumen business, adding to other operations it now has in Norway, Spain, and Estonia.
Major shareholder Trafigura reduced its stake in Puma to 49 percent two years ago, while Angola’s state-owned oil company Sonangol increased its share to 30 percent.
Puma is also part-owned by Cochan Holdings, a firm founded by Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, a one-time army general close to Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
Storage and distribution companies have grown as energy majors such as Shell and BP streamlined their operations, with rising costs forcing them to focus on production projects even before the price of oil collapsed at the end of last year.
The European refining sector has been particularly hard hit, with slow economic growth curbing oil demand, while more modern plants in the Middle East and Asia have increased competition.
UK refineries have especially suffered, with limited state support available.
The latest figures from the UKPIA refining trade group showed Britain imported nearly 50 percent of the diesel and 55 percent of the jet fuel it needs. That puts it above the “high-risk” energy security threshold of 45 percent designated by the West’s energy watchdog, the International Energy Agency.
Milford Haven’s closure followed that of the Coryton refinery in the east of England in 2012.
An industrial dispute in 2013 brought the Grangemouth refinery in Scotland to the brink of closure, before the Scottish and UK governments provided some financial support. (Editing by Susan Thomas and Mark Potter)