Marseille Oil Port Strike Extends to 14th Day, Halting Ships, Refineries

A strike by workers at the French port of Marseille’s oil terminals entered its 14th day, stranding 53 ships and forcing a Total SA refinery to begin shutting down.

The La Mede refinery began this morning to close for lack of crude oil, in a process that takes a few days, said Florent Segura, a Total spokesman. Total’s Feyzin refinery could also be affected if the strike continued, Segura said, without providing a possible date for a closure at Feyzin.

Unions have called for a broader, nationwide strike in various industries starting Oct. 12, in protest against the government’s plans to increase the retirement age. The CGT union has also called for refinery workers to strike that day, Charles Foulard, a CGT union spokesman, said in a telephone interview today.

Workers at the Marseille oil hub are protesting a law on French port operations as well. Their action has helped boost diesel prices in Europe.

“For the moment, there are no fuel supply problems,” said Yves le Goff, a spokesman for the refiners’ organization Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres. For predictions beyond that, “everything depends on what happens Tuesday,” he said.

Total, Exxon Mobil Corp., Ineos Group Holdings Plc and LyondellBasell Industries NV have plants in southeastern France that together account for 31 percent of French refining capacity.

La Mede and Feyzin refineries have daily oil-processing capacities of 157,000 barrels and 115,000 barrels, respectively, according to Bloomberg data.

Workers at merchandise terminals of Marseille-area ports were also striking today, blocking a total of 11 cargo ships, six container ships and three barges, the port authority said in an e-mailed statement.

The port has said “all guarantees” have been given for the strike to end.

Other Locations

Strikes are also in effect this weekend at the ports of Dunkirk and Saint-Nazaire, CGT’s Foulard said. Union workers at Total’s Donges refinery, in western France, voted on Friday to follow the strike call for Oct. 12, Foulard said.

The CGT’s national port workers branch said last week that the Marseille-area strike was due to “local problems.” The union also wants employers to trim working hours and eliminate overtime and weekend shifts.

The Marseille docks have experienced stoppages in recent years as unions have resisted efforts to transfer public-sector jobs to private companies.

A 12-day strike at the oil hub in December 2008 cost refineries 26 million euros ($36 million), including 15 million euros related to vessel delays and 11 million euros in lost revenue, UFIP estimated at the time. A strike at the oil terminals in March 2007 lasted 17 days.

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