Russian gasoil exports on-board North Korean products tankers have ground to a halt in the third quarter of 2017, port data show.
Six North-Korean flagged products tankers called at the Russian far east port of Vladivostok in June — compared with 14 back in March — but all departed without loading cargoes. And just one North Korean tanker has called at the port since — the Chon Myong 1 berthed at Vladivostok once in July and again on 18 August. The tanker is now on route to Nampho on the Yellow Sea, although it is unclear whether it loaded any cargo.
North Korean-flagged products tankers loaded around 1,145 b/d (37,300t) of Russian gasoil from Vladivostok in January–August this year. This is nearly down 60pc compared with the around 2,840 b/d (139,000t) loaded last year. Around a dozen tankers — all small 3,000 deadweight tonnes (dwt) vessels — appear to run shuttle deliveries from Vladivostok to ports in North Hamgyong Province on North Korea’s northeast coast.
Throughput at Vladivostok’s oil terminal has slumped as a result. North Korean tankers represented 64pc of product loadings at the port last year, but just 54pc this year. North Korean loadings from neighbouring ports in Primorsky krai are more sporadic — they took around 2,030 b/d (24,550t) of gasoil from Vostochny in the first quarter of 2017, though those shipments have since dried up. And roughly 300 b/d (9,300t) of VGO loaded onto North Korean tankers from Slavyanka this year — a flow that began back December 2016.
The gasoil exported from Vladivostok and occasionally from Vostochny is thought to be a high-sulphur product, but its provenance remains unclear. No gasoil was shipped to either port by rail this year, Argus data show. But gasoil is delivered to Vladivostok in 7,000-8,000t seaborne shipments from neighbouring ports such as Nakhodka and Slavyanka, which in turn receive products by rail from refineries such as NNK’s 90,000 b/d Khabarovsk facility.
Russian private-sector refiner NNK was placed on the US sanctions list over sales of both crude and products to North Korea earlier this year. The US Treasury penalised NNK for allegedly signing an oil supply contract with North Korea in addition to shipping $1mn worth of petroleum products to that country. NNK subsidiary Primornefteproduct, which owns a marine terminal near Vladivostok was also added to the sanctions list.
The drop in Russian gasoil exports on board North Korean tankers coincides with a general slowdown in oil and oil products supplies to the country from China. Gasoline imports from China — which averaged around 2,140 b/d (45,800t) in January-June of this year — collapsed to just 120t in July.
Russian gasoil is also exported to North Korea directly, by rail through Khasan. Rail deliveries — which resumed this year after a break in 2016 — have so far hit 160t in the period January-July. Around 260t of Russian gasoil was railed to North Korea in 2015.