A cargo of Canadian crude that departed from Vancouver at the beginning of July is heading to China, amid an ongoing decline in availability from China’s main heavy sour crude supplier Venezuela, Vortexa data show.

The Aframax tanker Serene Sea left Vancouver on 5 July, and is currently signalling Huizhou, where it is predicted to arrive towards the end of the month.

While the Vancouver to China crude export route has been rarely sighted in recent years, Canada does more regularly send other grades to China from the eastern Whiffen Head terminal, Newfoundland, which is the loading point for White Rose, Hibernia, Terra Nova and Hebron crude.

The last observed shipment from Canada’s east coast to China was aboard the Suezmax Erviken which delivered in mid-June to Yangpu—the first cargo exported from the terminal to China in around a year.

China imported around 4mn bl from Canada in 2017, only from Whiffen Head and all of which arrived in the second quarter.

Smaller 250,000-300,000bl cargoes of what is thought to be Canadian crude have also been re-exported to China via Portland, Oregon since January—with five such shipments observed so far. The last departure was at the end of June, which is expected to arrive to Longkou in mid-July.

Drop in heavy Venezuela supply

Venezuelan crude exports to China fell in the second quarter to their lowest level in around three years, which could prompt independent refiners in China to further expand the search for alternative heavy crude supply.

Grades that can compete with heavier Venezuelan ones such as Merey blend and diluted crude oil (DCO), often for use in the asphalt production process, are Colombian Castilla and Mexican Maya, in addition to the heavier Canadian grades.

That said, China’s imports of any crude grade from Mexico and Colombia combined are seen remaining broadly steady month-on-month in July.

Flows to South Korea

Besides China, Vancouver-loaded crude found another more unusual Asia-Pacific outlet in recent months.

A cargo was observed moving to South Korea in May, arriving at Hyundai Oilbank terminal in Daesan—also a rare occurrence in recent years.

South Korea is not a typical buyer of Venezuelan crude but regularly imports from Mexico.