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RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 30 (Reuters) - A delay in re-starting a unit at a Petroleo Brasileiro SA refinery and an unexpected spike in gasoline demand have led to fuel shortages in northeastern Brazil, a company source with direct knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.
The unit at the 178,000 barrel-a-day RPBC refinery in the southeastern city of Cubatão had been closed for routine maintenance but its start up was delayed by five days, said the source, who declined to provide further details.
Petrobras, as the company is known, said in July that the catalytic-cracking unit at the Cubatao refinery, in the state of São Paulo, would be down for maintenance work between October and December. Inaugurated in 1955, RPBC was the first refinery constructed by Petrobras.
"The delay means a shortfall in production of 15,000 cubic meters to 20,000 cubic metres of gasoline in Cubatão," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Part of the gasoline produced in São Paulo supplies the Northeast market."
The source said the main reason behind the shortage of gasoline was the unexpected spike in demand, adding that the situation was expected to return to normal by the weekend.
In a statement, Petrobras said gasoline deliveries to the northeastern states of Pernambuco and Paraiba had been disrupted by delays in the arrival of fuel tankers.
The company said a tanker arrived on Tuesday in Paraiba, while another docked in Pernambuco on Wednesday. It did not provide further details.
The head of the Sindipetro oil workers union for the coastal region of Sao Paulo, Marcelo Juvenal, said the problems at the RPBC refinery had been caused by Petrobras using contractors to carry out the repair work during an oil workers strike in November.
"Petrobras should have waited for the end of the strike to carry out the maintenance," Juvenal said. (Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier and Marta Nogueira; Editing by David Gregorio)