Oil tankers began arriving at the most important port in the northeastern Japanese region of Tohoku, which bore the brunt of the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
On Monday, the Tsuruhiro Maru, operated by Tokyo-based Asahi Tanker Co., became the first oil tanker to make a call at the Port of Sendai-Shiogama in Miyagi Prefecture since the twin natural disasters.
The Tsuruhiro Maru is also the first oil tanker to make a call at any port on the Pacific coast of the Tohoku region since March 11.
The oil tanker transported a total of 12,643 barrels of gasoline, diesel oil and kerosene from Idemitsu Kosan's Aichi refinery in Chita City, Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, to the Port of Sendai-Shiogama.
The petroleum products were then unloaded at the second-largest Japanese refiner-and-wholesaler's storage facility there. The storage facility will be used jointly by Idemitsu and other Japanese oil distributors as a relay point for ground transportation by tanker trucks.
The Port of Sendai became usable for ships carrying relief supplies on March 18.
Fuel shortages, as well as the damage to transport infrastructure and fears of a serious nuclear disaster involving one of Tokyo Electric Power's nuclear plants, have hampered relief and recovery efforts in the worst-hit Tohoku region.
Resource-poor Japan imports almost all of its oil and is the world's third-largest oil consuming country after the United States and China.
Japanese oil companies have taken emergency steps to secure fuel supplies, including importing and canceling export deals of petroleum products, as well as ramping up the operation rate of unaffected refineries.
The twin natural disasters immediately shut down several oil refineries, causing serious shortages of such fuels as gasoline, diesel oil and kerosene in Tokyo and other affected areas northeast of Tokyo.
Among the affected refineries are industry leader JX Holdings's three refineries in Sendai, Kashima and Negishi. Cosmo Oil, the nation's third-largest refiner, also saw its 220,000-barrel-a-day Chiba refinery affected.
Although the Negishi refinery resumed production on Monday, the Sendai, Kashima and Chiba refineries will remain offline for an uncertain period because they were damaged heavily, according to the Petroleum Association of Japan.
Before March 11, Japan's refineries had a total capacity of about 4.5 million barrels a day, but the figure immediately fell to 2.7 million barrels a day when the disasters struck, Akihiko Tembo, PAJ's chairman, said at a press conference on March 17. Processing will likely recover to 3.4 million barrels a day by the end of the month, said Tembo, who is also chairman of Idemitsu Kosan.
Kyokuto Petroleum Industries, a unit of Exxon Mobil, also said on Tuesday that its Chiba refinery had resumed full-scale operations.
In addition to oil, Japan also imports almost all of its natural gas in the form of liquefied natural gas and is by far the world's largest LNG importer.
The Shin Minato LNG terminal in Sendai City is the only Japanese LNG import terminal ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami. It will remain shut for an uncertain period. It supplies fuel to about 360,000 households in the city and surrounding areas.
The terminal has imported LNG from Malaysia, now the world's second-largest exporter of the fuel after Qatar.
All the other Japanese LNG import terminals, including those operated by Tokyo Electric Power, the nation's biggest buyer of the fuel, were not affected by the twin natural disasters.
-- Contact Hisane Masaki at email@example.com.