On Friday, February 17, Iraqi Oil Minister Jabbar Allibi stated that his country is looking to assemble a large fleet of oil tankers. This has brought our attention to the wider topic of OPEC members’ maritime activities.
Iraq has an interesting history when it comes to its oil tankers. During the 20th century, Iraq – currently OPEC’s second largest producer, fielded a significant tanker fleet, which in 1982 reached its all-time high of 24 vessels. However, during the operations of the Persian Gulf War, the fleet was entirely destroyed. It was partially restored in 2007, when Iraq acquired four new tankers.
The Iraqi Ministry of Oil currently plans on restructuring the state-owned Iraqi Oil Tanker Company (IOTC), seeing IOTC’s future development in building and purchasing a large number of vessels.
However, Iraq isn’t the oil OPEC member that is looking to strengthen its merchant navy. Saudi Arabia, which is OPEC’s largest crude oil producer and the cartel’s de facto leader, is in an even more beneficial geographical position than Iraq to increase the number of oil tankers in its possession. With vast coastlines and a number of industrial ports along both the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, Saudi Arabia has easy access to the markets of Asia and Europe.
In July 2016, Saudi officials stated that the country would be creating a $1.5 billion investment fund, the purpose of which would be to acquire 61 VLCC (very large crude carrier) type tankers. At that time, Saudi Arabia had 36 large range vessels in its possession and was responsible for roughly 20 percent of global oil-tanker shipments.
Saudi Arabia looks to outmatch the China Merchant Group, which currently fields the world’s largest VLCC and ULCC (ultra large crude carrier) fleet of 53 ships.
Iran – Saudi Arabia’s main geopolitical rival within OPEC, isn’t one to be left behind in the dust (or ripple waves, if you will). By the time sanctions were lifted from them in January 2016, Iran owned 47 oil tankers, 20 of which were purchased while sanctions were in place. The National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC) plans to strengthen its fleet even further by building and acquiring 25 new ships with a total loading capacity of 6 million tons.