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Tue 29 Jan 2008 04:00 AM

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Downstream boost

With crude oil export figures up, it's easy to see why the energy tanker business is a good one to be in right now.

In 2006 Saudi Aramco exported 2,541,692,569 barrels of crude oil. Exports from terminals in Ras Tanura, Ju'aymah and Yanbu resulted in 1,913 ship calls and that doesn't include shipping for refined products or LPG.

With figures like these from Saudi Arabia and other oil exporting countries in the region, it's easy to see why the energy tanker business is a good one to be in at the moment.

The future for the businesses that move the oil to its markets looks bright too. Even the most conservative estimates forecast increases in world demand and this region is investing heavily in refinery projects, not only to feed domestic consumption, but also to boost its exports.

This fact, coming on top of the IMO requirement for all oil and chemical tankers to be double hulled by 2010, has seen shipyards around the world pretty much fill to capacity.

These same circumstances have seen ship owners, such as Gulf Energy Maritime (GEM), invest in new vessels. GEM will have a fleet of 19 vessels by the end of 2009 and its CEO, Ahmed Al Falahi, has said that with new refineries being announced so often, ship owners have been encouraged to order new vessels in anticipation of the growing demand for energy transportation. When its newly boosted fleet is complete it will be the largest private commercial tanker operator in the region.

Other downstream developments are happening too. Refinery investment continues, with the recent announcement about a UAE consortium putting money into refineries in Libya, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The difference with these particular deals is that the money is local and from the private sector, not a state entity.

The interest of private sector investors shows that there is long-term value to be found, which goes beyond the frequent state motivation to ensure a cheap supply of petrol to its people. And where there's value there will also be plenty of opportunity.

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