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Burnt petcoke cargo sets sail from Venezuela, exports resume

HOUSTON Nov 23 A vessel carrying Venezuelan petroleum coke whose load caught fire set sail late on Tuesday for Colombia, allowing exports from the terminal to resume after a three-week halt while authorities decided what to do with the ship.

The Petrosanfelix terminal where the vessel was stuck accounts for more than a third of the around 150,000 tonnes of petroleum coke that Venezuela can export per month. Utilities buy the product and mix it with coal to burn at power plants.

The Top Trader, chartered by U.S. Koch Industries and carrying 22,000 metric tonnes of petroleum coke, sailed on Tuesday, according to Thomson Reuters vessel tracking data.

The cargo was sailing for Cartagena, Colombia, a change from the original destination in Europe.

The vessel's crew noticed burning petroleum coke when loading the cargo last month at the terminal, which is operated by state-run oil giant PDVSA.

It was unclear if the burning coke caused any damage to the bulk carrier.

PDVSA refused to allow the ship to discharge the cargo, so its insurance company and the ship broker authorized the vessel to sail to another port to unload.

Before clearing the move, Colombian Maritime Authority requested the vessel's manager provide a contingency plan for navigation and discharge, sources said.

Petroleum coke is a product derived from upgrading Venezuelan Orinoco belt's extra heavy oil into a crude more valuable for refiners.

The coke is typically transported from production facilities to the terminals at a high temperature, but many customers do not accept loading the cargoes if they detect fire.

Frequent outages and logistics problems have created an accumulation of million of tonnes of petroleum coke at PDVSA's eastern terminals in recent years. Exports have also been affected in the past.

After the Top Trader left the Petrosanfelix terminal, loading operations resumed at that facility, while other PDVSA ports were also loading petroleum coke this week, according to an independent report. (Reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Simon Webb and Alan Crosby)

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