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Amid a supply glut, a flotilla of oil tankers hovers off Long Island

About four or five miles due south of Long Beach out in the Atlantic Ocean, an oil tanker farm has sprouted.

Not exactly a farm. But a cluster of gigantic oil tankers hovering in the open water waiting out a market backlog created by COVID-19.

The pandemic has created a free fall in oil prices and a supply glut for gasoline, jet fuel and other products. Some refineries temporarily stopped operating. As a result, oceangoing tankers are in a holding pattern, a petroleum industry spokesman says, effectively becoming “interim floating storage facilities.”

On the West Coast, more than 20 tankers have been hovering near Los Angeles. On the East Coast, about a dozen oil tankers from around the globe and flying under the flags of several different nations have been clustered near Long Beach, according to websites that track international vessels across the globe.

The massive ships have nowhere to go.

“Reduced oil demand resulting from efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 has created a backlog in the supply chain for refined products such as gasoline and jet fuel,” Scott Lauermann, spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, said. “Tankers that typically transport oil and refined products are likely now in somewhat of a holding pattern, including serving as interim floating storage facilities until demand starts to rebound and while the market rebalances.”

Among them, the Transsib Bridge, an “oil products” ship flying under a Liberian flag, set off from Belgium in mid-April but was listed this week as anchored south of Long Beach. The crude-oil carrier Seaways Redwood, flying under a Marshall Islands flag, is floating nearby. Farther east, the SCF Pioneer, a Liberian-flagged crude-oil carrier, is anchored. The Jag Amisha, an Indian oil products tanker, on Thursday was moving at 0.1 knots.

Akerios, another Liberian ship, left Montreal in mid-March and was scheduled to dock in New York on April 21, but is sitting south of Fire Island, a little farther south than the rest of the cluster.

“It’s definitely something we’re aware of,” Petty Officer John Hightower of the U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs Detachment in Manhattan said. But the Coast Guard doesn’t typically go out to monitor such vessels unless there are security issues, he added.

In late April, the Coast Guard published footage of 27 tankers anchored offshore from Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, because some West Coast refineries have shuttered.

Gas station owners have said their sales plummeted by 70% in the last month.

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