August 28, 2006

Miami, Fort Lauderdale ports to close due to storm

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Florida ports of Miami and Fort
Lauderdale were set to shut to all inbound vessel traffic on
Monday evening due to Tropical Storm Ernesto, a U.S. Coast
Guard official said.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Monday Ernesto
was likely to miss the Gulf of Mexico and strike the Florida
peninsula before passing into the Atlantic later this week.

"We're preparing to shut down Miami and Fort Lauderdale
ports sometime this evening, within two hours," the U.S. Coast
Guard official said.

As part of the protocol, the ports have to be shut 24 hours
before the arrival of hurricane winds, the official said.

"All incoming vessel traffic will be halted, except for
essential cargoes, such as oil tankers," he said.

However, the oil tankers would be allowed into the ports on
a case-by-case basis, he added.

Oil tankers would have to stay out at sea if the ports have
enough oil in storage, he said.

Some oil traders in the Northeast said there were no
gasoline tankers heading to Miami and Fort Lauderdale at this

"It (the storm) will not have a major impact on the
gasoline market," a gasoline trader said. "There may be some
(gasoline) tankers heading for Tampa, but nothing for Miami."

Another trader said there might be some tankers delivering
fuel oil to Miami for power generation.

On the West coast of Florida, the ports remained open to
all commercial traffic, but a shipping advisory to recreational
boat users was issued on Monday, a second U.S. Coast Guard
official said.

"All recreational boaters have been advised to stay out of
the water and stay clear of the beaches and low-lying areas,"
she said.

In the freight market, the clean and dirty tanker rates in
the Caribbean market continued to fall late on Monday,
shrugging off the potential bullish impact from the storm.

The benchmark Aframax rates for crude delivery to the U.S.
Gulf Coast from the Caribbean dropped to a two-month low on
weakening demand.

The clean tanker rates for the Caribbean-U.S. Gulf voyage
were also edging downwards.

"The high number of available vessels is outweighing the
storm concerns for now," a tanker broker said.

Tanker rates typically rise during a storm as some vessels
would be delayed from loading or discharging.

This would in turn trim the availability of vessels.