LONDON - Oil company Shell has amassed up to 10 cargoes or about 6 million barrels of Forties benchmark crude oil from the North Sea, possibly for storage, over the past two weeks, traders said on Friday.

The company has bought about 5 cargoes of the North Sea grade since early April, according to traders. It has also kept about 5 or 6 cargoes received via the Forties May loading programme, issued last week, they said.

Shell declined to comment.

Shell has earmarked a ship - the Noah - for 30-90 days storage for UK/Continental Europe, according to shipping and trading sources.

Shipping fixtures showed Shell had at least four other vessels provisionally booked in the North Sea, but it was not clear if these would be confirmed or if they were for storage.

Forties, the biggest of the North Sea crude oil streams, is one of four grades that form the North Sea pricing benchmark used to value more than 20 million barrels per day of crude in the Atlantic basin, roughly a quarter of daily world supply.

The demand for Forties FOT-E has helped boost the value of the grade, which traded only slightly below Brent BRT- at one stage this week. [ID:nLF498337]

Brent, a lighter, sweeter crude, is typically valued at a premium to heavier grade Forties.

Traders said Shell could store the Forties crude to make money from the structure of the oil market, where the price of crude is higher for future delivery than for delivery nearby, known as contango.

Freight is cheap and there is still value in the June/July spread, said one trader, referring to the contango.

On the Brent crude oil futures market, for example, Brent crude LCOc1 for June is currently at a discount of more than a dollar to July.

This contango structure enables market participants to make money by storing oil to sell at a later date.

The contango has existed for several months and has already spurred firms to store oil, helping to boost crude oil stocks.

In November last year, for example, Shell and other oil trading companies began to store crude as the global recession hit demand for crude and the contango in the oil market deepened.

Norwegian oil tanker owner Frontline (FRO.OL) estimated in January that oil firms were storing about 80 million barrels of crude oil at sea.

(Additional reporting by Ikuko Kao in London and Luke Pachymuthu in Dubai, Editing by Peter Blackburn)