Second tanker of Kurdish oil leaves Turkey despite Baghdad protest

ANKARA/LONDON Mon Jun 9, 2014 11:21am EDT

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ANKARA/LONDON (Reuters) - A second shipment of Iraqi Kurdish crude has sailed from the Turkish port of Ceyhan, industry and government sources said, increasing the stakes in a battle with Baghdad over control of oil sales from the autonomous region.

The United Emblem suezmax tanker, carrying 1 million barrels of crude, sailed from the harbor on Turkey's Mediterranean coast on Monday, Reuters AIS Live ship tracking showed.

The shipment is the second to leave Ceyhan in three weeks after arriving by pipeline. At least 2 million barrels of Kurdish crude are now at sea, despite protests from Baghdad that only the central government has the right to sell Iraqi oil.

The Kurdish Regional Government has said the oil shipments are designed to show Baghdad it will exercise control over its own oil sales, but so far it has failed to find a buyer for its first tanker shipment, which left Ceyhan over two weeks ago.

Neither Kurdistan's Ministry of Natural Resources nor a spokesman for the regional government was immediately available to comment. Oil ministry officials in Baghdad were also not immediately available.

THE HUNT FOR BUYERS

Last week the first tanker, the United Leadership, sailed away from Morocco after the North African country declined to let the vessel unload its 1-million-barrel crude cargo at the Mohammeddia refinery.

Italy has also warned oil traders they face potential legal action if they buy the Kurdish crude, after discussions with the Iraq central government at its embassy in Baghdad.

The regional government originally said the oil would be sold to German or Italian refiners, but so far the United Leadership has not sailed towards those destinations. On Monday, it remained about 30 miles (48 km) off the Moroccan coast.

The United Leadership and the United Emblem are listed in tanker tracking as "For Orders", an industry term indicating that a final buyer of the crude has not yet been arranged.

Until last month, Kurdish oil exports were constrained to a small volume sent by truck to two Turkish ports on the Mediterranean. Iraq's state marketer made threats of legal action but did not follow through.

But the start of deliveries on a new Kurdish pipeline that currently pumps around 100,000 barrels per day to Ceyhan means significantly higher revenues for the region.

Iraq and Kurdistan have been trying to reach a political agreement over oil sales, but five months after the pipeline started up there had still been no final decision, prompting the regional government to go it alone.

Kurdish crude stored at Ceyhan had reached 2.8 million

barrels at the end of last week, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Istabul, Isabel Coles in Erbil and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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