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(Adds name of vessel, traders' comments)
HOUSTON, July 18 (Reuters) - British oil company BP Plc has chartered a foreign-flagged vessel to transport Alaskan crude, the company said on Monday, the latest sign that producers of Alaskan North Slope, or ANS, crude are eyeing new markets.
ANS is mostly transported to the U.S. West Coast on U.S.-flagged vessels owned by BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil. Two shipments have left U.S. ports this year for destinations in Japan and Nicaragua, but ANS exports remain rare because of the high shipping costs from Alaska.
BP spokeswoman Dawn Patience said in an email that the company had chartered Tianlong Spirit, a Bahamas-flagged Suezmax vessel, for commercial and operational reasons. She declined to specify the destination for the crude and said the vessel would sail after BP receives approvals from the state of Alaska and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Two trade sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said the cargo would sail to Asia.
Reuters Vessel Tracking data showed the ship was off the coast of Baja California on Monday.
ANS had been exempted from a decades-long U.S. ban on crude exports which was lifted late last year. (Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Peter Cooney and Richard Chang)