HOUSTON/BUENOS AIRES, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Two tankers carrying 3 million barrels of Nigerian and Angolan crudes set sail this month to Argentina to feed its domestic refining network, pushing the country's imports close to 2015's level, according to sources and Thomson Reuters data.
Argentina last year received some 6 million barrels of imported crude, mostly African medium and light grades bought by independent refiners on the open market. Including the latest tankers, this year's haul is about 5.8 million barrels.
The country's energy minister, Juan Jose Aranguren, in May encouraged refiners to replace imports with domestic crude as part of a plan to move toward energy self-sufficiency and avoid another year of record purchases, particularly of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and gasoil.
But that request has so far been difficult to meet. Argentina mostly produces heavy crude that several of its refineries cannot process, and needs the light crude to refine into gasoline and diesel. The country's crude output remained stagnant last year at around 530,000 barrels per day, according to government data.
The very large crude carrier (VLCC) New Vanguard loaded with 2 million barrels of Angola's Nemba crude is expected to arrive in Argentina in late November, according to Thomson Reuters vessel tracking data.
A unit in Argentina of Royal Dutch Shell, Axion Energy and Pampa Energia will share the Angolan crude to be processed at their refineries, according to a source from one of the companies receiving the oil.
A smaller cargo carrying 1 million barrels of Nigerian crude is also expected this month, a government source said, without adding details on sellers, buyers or specific grade.
Refining firms working in the South American country first imported U.S. oil in late September, the government source added.
The Panamax tanker Mare Atlantic delivered a total of 650,000 barrels of U.S. crudes in two parcels, including some 300,000 barrels of Louisiana Light Sweet, according to Reuters data.
Argentina is the latest Latin American country entering the list of U.S. crude importers after an exports ban was lifted at the end of 2015, following Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Dominican Republic. Venezuela's PDVSA has also become a prominent importer of U.S. oil through a terminal in Curacao.
Argentina, which has been running an energy deficit since 2011, has imported at least 35 cargoes of gasoil and a record 90 cargoes of LNG to satisfy its domestic demand this year.
Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Houston and Juliana Castilla in Buenos Aires; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama