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(Updates with tanker departures, paragraphs 10-12)
HOUSTON, March 28 (Reuters) - Four tankers on Thursday were preparing to offload or pick up cargoes in the busiest U.S. oil port, the first signs of an easing of the bottleneck that cut 1 million barrels per day of shipments, according to vessel tracking data.
The Houston Ship Channel reopened this week with operating restrictions following a fire at Mitsui & Co Inc's Intercontinental Terminals Co (ITC) in Deer Park, Texas. That blaze sent fuel and chemicals into the waterway, which connects Houston to the Gulf of Mexico and is home to nine refineries.
Oil and fuel moving in and out of the port fell to 1.4 million barrels per day this week, from a 10-day moving average of 2.4 million bpd, according to figures from data provider Kpler. That decline is similar to a drop in February when fog closed the channel for three days, Kpler said.
The U.S. Coast Guard is adding inspectors to check ships for contamination to speed transit. On Wednesday, 15 vessels moved through the upper channel, four more than on Tuesday, said U.S. Coast Guard Captain Kevin Oditt at a morning briefing.
On Thursday, 55 inbound and 19 outbound vessels were waiting to move through areas tainted by the fuels. In all, 141 ships were at anchor, but not all of those were waiting to move past ITC, Oditt said.
After a shutdown last week, traffic on the upper channel has been limited to daylight hours and other restrictions. Ships that travel through the area must be inspected for oil and cleaned if any is found. It remains unclear when the channel could return to normal, Oditt said.
The restrictions this week caused LyondellBasell Industries and Royal Dutch Shell to slow production at two refineries.
FSL Piraeus, carrying about 750,000 barrels of crude oil, arrived Wednesday at Shell's Deer Park joint-venture refinery and was preparing to discharge its cargo. Elke Bene, a refined products tanker, loaded at Shell this week but has not departed, the data showed.
Three tankers, Eagle Texas, Elandra Angel and STI Seneca, were parked at Enterprise Products Partners' terminal, after moving through the ship channel on Wednesday, data from Refinitiv Eikon and Kpler showed.
Two other tankers, Astro Saturn and Searuby, loaded with crude oil and refined products, respectively, were moving out of the channel after sitting at Enterprise's terminal since March 21, the data showed.
The tankers each can hold up to 750,000 barrels of fuels. Enterprise declined to comment.
Tankers Eagle San Juan, NS Corona and Dali last week discharged cargoes of crude oil at SemGroup Corp's Houston Fuel Oil Terminal and have not left, data showed. SemGroup did not respond to a request for comment.
Luctor, a refined products tanker, had waited for almost a week moored with a full cargo at a Kinder Morgan Inc's Houston terminal. The tanker began moving out of the ship channel on Thursday. Kinder Morgan declined to comment. (Reporting by Collin Eaton in Houston and Erwin Seba in Pasadena, Texas; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Richard Chang and David Gregorio)