* Buyers look to replaces millions of lost fuel barrels
* Atlantic Coast fuel sails south, Baltic diesel heads to Brazil
* Lack of storage leaves Latin America with little backup
* Cargoes booked for W. Africa rerouted
By Libby George
NEW YORK, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Traders and ship brokers are rerouting millions or barrels of fuel to Latin America to compensate for broken supply lines after Hurricane Harvey crippled the U.S. Gulf of Mexico refining hub.
Buyers from Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina and elsewhere are turning to refineries in Europe, Asia and even the U.S. East Coast in a rush to replace more than 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of fuel imports.
Roughly one quarter of U.S. refining capacity, a total of some 4.4 million bpd, was shuttered over the past week as Harvey battered Texas and Louisiana, sending U.S. gasoline prices to two-year highs above $2 a gallon.
“Some of it’s going to come from Asia, most of it’s going to come from Europe and there’s bound to be a bit of belt-tightening or doing without,” said Paulo Nery, head of EMEA oil with industry monitor Genscape.
The closures initially led to a rush of U.S. buying, with traders rerouting cargoes to prevent fuel shortages in the world’s largest energy market.
But ship brokers and analysts said some of those cargoes were set to change destination yet again as Latin America competed for crucial imports.
“Now it is the Latin Americans which are in the market,” one ship broker said, adding that he had seen many diversions since the storm.
Desperate buyers in the region were eyeing cargoes sitting of the coast of Venezuela, but were looking nearly everywhere to meet their enormous fuel import needs, sources said.
Latin American demand for imports had already risen this year ahead of Harvey because a number of refinery outages had reduced domestic supply in countries such as Mexico and Venezuela.
“Latin America is going to need those cargoes more than anyone else,” said Robert Campbell, head of global oil products markets for Energy Aspects. There is little fuel in storage across Latin America, so many countries will need to buy urgently, he added.
In June, Latin America took in 850,000 bpd of diesel and 950,000 bpd of gasoline, according to Energy Aspects, with the bulk of it coming from the U.S. Gulf.
Genscape data showed loadings for Latin America from the U.S. Gulf this week sliding dramatically to just 300,000 bpd, underscoring the need for replacements.
Already, a cargo of Baltic-produced diesel aboard the tanker STI Manhattan had diverted from France to Brazil – a rare destination, Nery said.
Tanker tracking showed the Flagship Ivy sailing for Brazil with fuel loaded in New Jersey, while the Navig8 Excellence was also provisionally booked to carry gasoline out of the U.S. Atlantic Coast. Mexico’s PMI was also seeking a ship to carry gasoline from Canada.
Other fixtures showed Valero booking European gasoline to sail to Peru and Mercuria fixing a cargo to Chile.
More diversions were imminent, sources said, while traders in West Africa said multiple cargoes first booked for the region were sailing for the Americas instead – prompting worries over shortages and price rises in that region.
Analysts said supply lines would be disrupted for weeks and possibly months as global markets grappled with the damage inflicted by Harvey on the world’s largest fuel supply hub.
“Price signals are seeing the gasoline barrels currently redistributed to the markets which need them most – a bit like a ripple effect,” said Andrew Wilson, head of energy research at ship brokers BRS.
Editing by Simon Webb and Jonathan Oatis