Fuel tankers roll again from Coryton refinery


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Petrol delivery trucks were once again rolling from the gates of Coryton oil refinery today after a shutdown triggered when the site collapsed into administration.

The Essex refinery's administrators, PwC, said after discussions with suppliers and customers, who include BP, they had started shipments of refined oil products with immediate effect, easing fears over fuel shortages.

The site, which supplies 20% of fuel in London and the South East, halted sales after its Swiss owner Petroplus placed the refinery into administration, prompting fears of up to 1,000 job losses.

BP is understood to be the refinery's biggest customer but previously said it had not suffered from any immediate supply issues.

The formerly BP-owned refinery had been operating as usual otherwise, but with no deliveries of petrol or other products, including bitumen, leaving the site.

While deliveries have started again, PwC was unable to confirm whether the shipments were running at full capacity.

Coryton staff were told to expect some job losses, union sources informed the Press Association, although administrators are confident of finding a buyer.

A ship was due to dock this morning to unload 600,000 barrels of crude oil, the union official said.

PwC, which is also dealing with the administration of two other locations - an oil storage site in Teesside and a research and development site in Swansea - said Petroplus had suffered as a result of "low refining margins and high restructuring costs".

The market has become tougher as the economic downturn in Europe has hit demand for transport fuels and competition has grown from the refineries in Asia.

Petroplus reported a net loss of 413 million US dollars (£265 million) in the first nine months of last year, while in December its banks withdrew a 1.05 billion US dollar (£675 million) portion of its 2.01 billion US dollar (£1.29 billion) credit facility.

There are seven other refineries in the UK - at South Killingholme and Lindsey, both in north Lincolnshire; Fawley, near Southampton; Grangemouth, near Falkirk; Stanlow in Cheshire; and Milford Haven and Pembroke, both in Pembrokeshire.

The other main supplier for the South East and London is the Exxon Mobil refinery at Fawley.

A meeting is expected later today involving the administrators, the Government and unions as part of efforts to secure the refinery's future.

Energy Minister Charles Hendry chaired a meeting with a range of interested parties today to discuss the future of the Coryton refinery.

He said: "We have had a positive meeting this afternoon where the administrator set out what has been done so far and the plan of action to secure the long-term future of Coryton refinery.

"The administrator has worked hard to restore deliveries to customers so quickly and I am greatly encouraged by the overall collaborative approach being taken.

"Coryton has strong advantages as a refinery and is an important part of the UK's refining infrastructure.

"All those at today's meeting made clear that they were committed to doing all they can to ensure the future of the refinery.

"There was agreement that the best way to secure the sustainable future of the plant is to maintain current operations and to find a buyer as quickly as possible.

"I made clear that the Government will do all it can to support this process."

Meanwhile, Unite announced that Wincanton tanker drivers on strike in a row over pay and conditions will take a further seven days of industrial action from February 2 unless the dispute is resolved.

The drivers, who deliver fuel to Jet garages, have been on strike for the past three days and are due to stay out until next Tuesday.

Matt Draper, Unite national officer, said: "Despite the union's repeated attempts in the last few days to resolve the dispute, the employer, Wincanton, has so far failed to honour its promise to return with a form of words that we can move forward on. We have no other option but to extend this strike for another seven days in a further attempt to get the employer to see sense."