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LONDON–Up to 4 million barrels of North Sea Forties crude oil, the main component of global pricing benchmark Brent, are set to leave the region for South Korea in October, according to shipping fixtures seen by Dow Jones Newswires, a move that will likely provide strong support to Brent futures.

These volumes represent over 40% of the total output of Forties planned for the month.

Forties prices have been weak even though Buzzard, the largest Forties oil field, has been under maintenance through September, and despite loadings of three Forties cargoes–F0910, F1002 and F1004–being delayed recently, North Sea traders said.

But shippings of North Sea grades to Asia tend to push higher the grades’ prices, often also helping lift Brent oil futures.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB) moved to charter the Very Large Crude Carrier, or VLCC, Nova TBN, and Total SA (TOT) booked the VLCC Athina, the fixtures showed. The cost of shippings are $5 million and $4.75 million respectively, according to the fixtures.

Both 2-milllion-barrel VLCCs are expected to load crude around Oct. 10 at Hound Point, Scotland, the export point for Forties crude. They are set to go to South Korea, where a European Union-South Korean free trade agreement lets local refiners save 3% in import duties on North Sea oil grades.

Meanwhile, the VLCC Front Commanche, booked by Chevron Corp. (CVX) to load crude at Hound Point Sept. 18-20 and head to Asia, is now “approaching the port,” a shipbroker said.

It means that up to 6 million barrels of Forties could leave the North Sea within a month.

Weak demand for Forties from European refiners, due to the beginning of refinery maintenance season and the availability of alternative, non-North Sea grades, kept Forties prices Wednesday at around parity to physical benchmark Brent, traders said.

-By Konstantin Rozhnov. (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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