A flotilla of European fuel tankers is preparing to sail to the US in the wake of tropical storm Harvey, as oil traders scramble to replace supplies of petrol knocked out by the worst storm to hit Texas in 50 years.

Shipbrokers in London said almost 40 cargoes of petrol had been booked or were being negotiated so far this week, well up on the usual volume, and traders were asking for flexibility to deliver either to the Atlantic seaboard or the Gulf Coast depending on when ports may reopen.

Harvey has knocked out more than a fifth of US oil refining capacity or roughly 4m barrels a day, sparking fears of fuel shortages and driving wholesale petrol prices up by 20 per cent in the past week to the highest level in two years.

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