March 13, 2012 / 1:08 PM / 8 years ago

First tanker leaves new Iraq export terminal

* Vessel carrying 2 million barrels for North America

* Terminal is first of four to hugely boost export capacity

BASRA, Iraq, March 13 (Reuters) - The first tanker left a new floating oil terminal off the coast of southern Iraq on Tuesday, sources said, inaugurating a new route Baghdad expects will raise its exports to record levels.

The Maersk Hirado began filling from the new single point mooring (SPM) terminal on Thursday.

Two sources at Iraq’s South Oil Company said the ship had left on Tuesday carrying 2 million barrels for delivery in North America. That suggests the new terminal has increased Iraq’s exports by more than 300,000 barrels per day (bpd).

The terminal is the first of four which are each ultimately expected to have capacities of 850,000 bpd, more than doubling Iraq’s export capacity.

The terminals are being built by Australia’s Leighton Holdings. The launch of the first one had been held up for weeks by bad weather in the Gulf.

Iraq’s oil production has been held back for decades by infrastructure crippled by decades of sanctions and war, including a lack of export capacity on its small strip of Gulf coast.

Its oil minister said this month it was producing oil at a rate of more than 3 million barrels per day for the first time since 1979. An Iraqi oil official said on Monday average exports should top 2.3 million bpd next month, a post-war record, up from 2.01 million last month.

Iraq has announced plans in recent years to rapidly increase its output with massive deals involving international firms and a long-term goal of producing as much as 12 million bpd.

While most industry analysts say that goal is too ambitious, a doubling of output to 6 million bpd is seen as within reach, which would make Iraq the second largest OPEC producer behind Saudi Arabia and one of the world’s biggest sources of new oil in coming years.

Leighton has said it is cooperating with Australian police in an investigation over whether employees bribed Iraqi officials involved in the oil terminal contract negotiations. Iraq is conducting its own investigation but says it has so far found no evidence of wrongdoing by its officials. (Reporting by Aref Mohammed; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by James Jukwey)

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