| HOUSTON, July 26
HOUSTON, July 26 A tanker carrying crude oil
from Iraqi Kurdistan is hours away from the Port of Galveston in
Texas, according to Reuters ship tracking data and the U.S.
Coast Guard, its arrival imminent despite Washington's concerns
about independent oil sales from the autonomous region.
The Marshall Islands-flagged tanker United Kalavrvta, which
left the Turkish port of Ceyhan in June carrying oil from a new
Kurdish pipeline, is slated to approach the Texas port of
Galveston on Saturday evening and has issued a notice of
pre-arrival to ship traffic managers.
But Coast Guard Petty Officer Andy Kendrick said the ship is
too large to enter the Galveston port, near Houston. That means
it would have to offload its cargo onto smaller ships offshore
before the oil is delivered to the U.S. mainland.
It could possibly start offloading the oil as soon as
Sunday, after Coast Guard officials carry out routine safety
inspections of the vessel.
Kendrick also said the Coast Guard was in contact with the
U.S. State Department, the National Security Council and the
Department of Homeland Security about the ship's arrival.
Trading sources in Texas, New York, London and Geneva have
been unable to identify the buyer of the United Kalavrvta's
cargo. The oil could go to any one of the many refineries
located along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The ship carries approximately 1 million barrels of crude,
which would fetch more than $100 million at international
Any sale of Kurdish crude oil to a U.S. refinery would
infuriate Baghdad, which sees such deals as smuggling, raising
questions about Washington's commitment to preventing oil sales
from the autonomous region.
The U.S. government has expressed fears that independent oil
sales from Kurdistan could contribute to the break-up of Iraq as
the government in Baghdad struggles to contain ultra-hardline
Islamic State, a group of Sunni Islamist insurgents who have
captured vast areas of the country.
But it also has grown frustrated with Iraqi Prime Minister
Nuri al-Maliki's handling of the crisis.
Washington has pressured companies and governments not to
buy crude from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), but it has
stopped short of banning U.S. firms from buying it outright.
The KRG has renewed its push for an independent state amid
the latest violence roiling Iraq. Its relationship with Baghdad
has deteriorated over what it sees as Maliki's role in stoking
the crisis and the long-running dispute over oil sales.
On Thursday, Carlos Pascual, head of the U.S. State
Department's Energy Bureau, told Reuters that there had been no
change of policy in Washington toward Kurdish independent oil
sales, but he said he hoped the central government and the
region could reach an agreement in time.
Baghdad has threatened to sue anyone that buys Kurdish oil.
(Additional reporting by David Sheppard in London, editing by G