Morocco's major oil refiner Samir said yesterday it would take nine to 13 months to re-establish full output capacity at its main 125,000 barrels-per-day Mohammedia plant, ravaged by Monday's fire.

Within 10 days, the company will restore 60 per cent of output capacity and would be able to meet 70 per cent of the domestic market demand, Samir's Managing Director Abderrahmane Saaidi told reporters in Casablanca.

"We'll start in January work to re-establish full capacity at Mohammedia and this should take us eight to 12 months. This is a cautious scenario. But we believe we can do better than this deadline," Saaidi noted.

The company would need to import between 120,000 and 130,000 tonnes of gas oil a month to cover the output shortfall. Gas oil is the main refined oil product used by Moroccan drivers. The refinery at Mohammedia caught fire on Monday after floods submerged it.

Saaidi said the company is 96 per cent covered by its insurance firms for such disasters.
"Preliminary estimates show that material damage from the fire amounts to 1.5 billion dirham (around $140 million) with a 20 per cent margin (more or less)," he added.

While describing the incident as a "national catastrophe," Saaidi sought to soothe market concerns on the company's future. In July, Samir lost the lucrative position of a monopoly over the commercialisation of refined oil products in the country, following the launch of a liberalisation programme.

"We are determined to rebuild what fate has destroyed," he said.

Samir is considered a main pillar of Morocco's economy and among the five largest capitalised stocks in Casablanca's bourse.

Morocco has started urgent research of supplies of jet fuel, gas oil and butane as authorities gave the green light to distributors to resort to international markets for spot buys.

Saaidi said Samir's other plant in Sidi Kacem, which runs at 25,000 bpd, would cover 25 per cent of the firm's production.

"Mohammedia plant will run at 3.7 million tonnes per year within 10 days," he added.

He said Samir has enough 300 ppm gas oil stocks to cover three months of need and enough ordinary gas oil stocks to cover 12 days of need.

The 300 ppm gas oil is little used in Morocco while ordinary gas oil is the most commonly used by drivers. The company is expecting soon a shipment of 70,000 tonnes of ordinary gas oil, enough to cover 10 days of need, he added.

Samir's Assistant-General Manager Jamal Ba-Amer said the shipment would be supplied by Swedish Preem Petroleum.

Trading house Tamoil Group, in which the Libyan government has a big stake, said it had agreed the sale of 25,000-35,000 tonnes of spot gas oil to Morocco.

Saaidi said the government has set a supply committee, grouping energy ministry officials, distributors group GPM and Samir officials, to assure a regular and normal supply of the market.

But traders said the storage facilities at Mohammedia had become unusable because of flooding, posing huge logistical problems in offloading fuel at the port and so discouraging international oil firms from sending cargoes to Morocco.

"There's nothing to worry about as far as supply is concerned," he said.

Morocco's annual needs stand at 3.0 million tonnes of gas oil, 1.0 million tonnes of butane, 1.2 million tonnes of industrial fuel, 400,000 tonnes of petrol, 300,000 tonnes of jet fuel and 100,000 tonnes of propane, the official said.

Those requirements are normally met in large part by the country's two refineries, in Mohammedia and Sidi Kacem, although Morocco is a net importer of jet fuel and gas oil. It also regularly exports naphtha and fuel oil.