More than 30% of Maritime Oil Traverses South China Sea

(October 11, 2018) — The South China Sea is a major trade route for crude oil, and in 2016 more than 30% of global maritime oil trade, or about 15 MMbbld, passed through it, reports the Energy Information Administration (EIA). More than 90% of crude oil volumes flowing through the South China Sea last year transited the Strait of Malacca, the shortest sea route between suppliers in Africa and the Persian Gulf and markets in Asia, making it one of the world’s primary oil transit chokepoints.
30% of Maritime Oil Traverses South China Sea with Strait of malacca choke point propane LPG vessels. BPN 10/2018
In addition, a significant amount of crude oil, about 1.4 MMbbld, passes through the strait on its way to Singapore and the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, where it is refined before transiting the South China Sea in the form of petroleum products. The marginal sea, part of the Pacific Ocean, is a major trade route for the Middle East, which accounted for more than 70% of total South China Sea shipments in 2016.

Saudi Arabia is the largest source of crude oil, making up nearly one-fourth of volumes that traverse. More than half of Saudi Arabia’s global crude oil shipments traveled through the South China Sea last year.

Before the lifting of United Nations sanctions on Iran’s crude oil exports in January 2016, Iran relied heavily on Asian markets for most of its exports. After sanctions were lifted, Iran could once again export crude oil to Europe. However, the South China Sea route still accounted for 52% of the Islamic Republic’s oil exports in 2016.

In addition to Middle Eastern and African volumes, some regional countries bordering the South China Sea contribute to the overall shipments of crude through the region. Indonesia and Malaysia together accounted for 5% of crude oil loadings that passed through the sea last year and 2% of crude oil receipts.

Most of the crude oil from these countries that passes through the South China Sea is exported to other nations. However, some intra-country trade also crosses the southern portion of the sea as cargos move between eastern and western ports within each country.

Singapore accounted for 2% of crude oil loadings that passed through the South China Sea in 2016 and 1% of crude oil receipts. Although Singapore does not produce crude oil, it is a major hub for refining, storing, and transshipping crude oil and petroleum products. In 2016, 95% of Singapore’s crude oil exports passed through the South China Sea. Most of these volumes originally came from the Middle East, and about half went to China.

The three crude oil importers with the largest volumes passing through the South China Sea—China, Japan, and South Korea—collectively accounted for 80% of total crude oil transiting the sea last year. About 90% of China’s 2016 maritime crude oil shipments were transported over the sea. China’s oil imports have increased substantially over the past few years as a result of the country’s robust energy demand growth and stagnant crude oil production. The nation recently surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest crude oil importer. A significant portion of these incremental volumes that are sent to northern China from eastern Russia by pipeline and by vessel do not pass through the South China Sea.

About 90% of the crude oil imported by Japan and South Korea was shipped through the South China Sea last year. Most of Japan’s and South Korea’s imports are from Middle Eastern suppliers and are transported through the Strait of Malacca and then over the South China Sea.

The Weekly Propane Newsletter, October 8, 2018.
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