testata inforMARE
06 December 2022 - Year XXVI
Independent journal on economy and transport policy
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FORUM of Shipping
and Logistics


The Tanker market
in 2000

Crude oil transpor

   

The evolution in freight rates as compared to 1999 has been a real revolution ! Things have accelerated at a pace that no expert could have predicted. From a situation of pseudo-crisis, owners have swung in the space of several months to an unexpected climate of high profitability. This change is all the more surprising in that it applies throughout the whole range of the tanker fleet.

Not only is this a situation which has not been seen since 1973, but above all it seems that it has put paid to the wild fluctuations in rates which have been so characteristic of previous years. Everything points to the tanker market world entering in a new era.

The profound "sea change" which has occurred is in fact due to a combination of several factors : a sustained world growth producing a strong demand for crude oil, a rise in crude prices which has prompted producers to increase their production, and a much greater extension shown by both owners and charterers to aspects of security.

Thus after a quick analysis of the various contribution causes, we shall review the actual effects that have been produced in the main tanker categories. And finally we will try to give our explanations as to why we think that today's current climate is likely to continue over the next few years.
 

The main reasons for this improvement top
The majority of oil importing countries have experienced an extremely strong economy, with record growth levels

For the majority of countries hit by the Asian crisis, the recoveries were much quicker than predicted and their energy requirements grew rapidly. Similarly western countries and in particular the U.S. maintained their growth and energy high levels of consumption. Nonetheless it is worth recalling that the forecast is for a reduced growth in 2001 and that the overall situation in certain countries (Korea and above all Japan) is far from being remedied.

Whereas in 1999 the rise in crude oil prices was dictated by political restrictions from producing countries, the scenario in 2000 was quite different. OPEC has loosened its grip by increasing its production quotas and the majority of producers are now at their maximum capacity. Oil prices are subject again to the traditional laws of supply and demand, whereas to some extend, last year they were artificially sustained.


 

Despite the context of strong demand, global tanker capacity would have been able to fulfill the needs without precipitating the substantial upheavals that we have seen in the freight rates.

Despite the considerable achievements made by the vast majority of oil companies and shipowners over the last 20 years in maritime safety measures and a proportional drop in oil spill accidents, a single disaster was enough to set the market ablaze.

The over-reaction of the media which followed the sinking of the 'Erika' and the extreme commentaries and conclusions which followed, helped provoke an electric shock amongst the players of the profession. The recent accident on the Mississippi of the 'Westchester' will certainly help to consolidate a good number of safety measures taken and accelerate even faster the disposal of single-hulls.

Whilst some of the decisions adopted by politics and oil companies could be termed arbitrary, they have resulted overnight in a totally new and radical approach in determining the choice of tonnage.

Following the U.S. lead, Europe collectively is in the process of setting up its own code of good conduct, affecting the different players : classification societies, flags states, port state controls, and the progressive scrapping of the oldest ships, etc.

In anticipation of these measures, a good number of oil companies have already set up protective steps when chartering-in and have reinforced their systems of vetting, giving priority to recent tonnage (less than 15 years) and applying even stricter criteria for anything between 15 - 20 years.

Given the inherent over-capacity of the world tanker fleet, and above all its age structure, it has been enough to create a drastic reduction in tonnage on offer and to send rates sky-high.

Added to this, has been a strategic consolidation of shipowners, which had started in 1999 and is being reinforced, one can appreciate in the context of sustained demand, the new configuration of the current market.

 

Impact on freight rates
top

From the slump of last year with average earnings being less than $20,000 per day, shipowners not only have achieved acceptable payback levels, but are also ending the year in ecstasy with in some cases earnings up to $100,000 per day !!

With strong demand and full production in most areas, only the Middle East Gulf can perform as the swing source of supply, consequently VLCCs movements have been constantly rising.

In addition one cannot overlook the major role that the West African market plays today : although VLCC liftings remain globally constant, we can notice that there has been a virtual tripling of shipments to the East (Korea and China principally).

This market which was relatively marginal for shipowners up till now, has been transformed into a real "gold mine" in recent months. It suffices to compare the rates which were obtained on the West Africa to US Gulf route in 1999 of about $20,000 per day with the steady increase since the beginning of the year to levels which are exceeding $85,000 per day at the end of the period.

In conjunction with an enforced emphasis on quality sought by the main charterers (giving a priority to new-built vessels) it is equally the changes in vessel supply organisation which has completely reversed the situation.

At the beginning of the year, the setting up the pool "Tankers International" (the commercial operator of six major shipowners) had a profound impact on the market, combining good modern units (25 % of the VLCC fleet under 10 years-old) under one entity. In the light of a steady and firm demand, the pool was able to exercise its strengths straightaway. The economic recovery in Asia and the growing requirements from China helped push up the already high percentage ( over two thirds) of movements to this area.

The Chinese market is far from reaching its full potential, but the 1.5 million bbl/day of imports averaged over 2000 already is the double of 1999. Whereas up till now only Japan and Korea have applied strict selection procedures, it is probable that there will be a progressive tightening of measures by other countries which will help ensure sustained rates for the years to come.

Even if the economic growth over the next three, four or five years does not match the current levels, the role of the Middle East Gulf will become extremely important and will favour the largest size of units.
 

top

With the exception of a short and sudden drop in rates at the end of the summer, levels were likewise steadily upwards for this segment of the market.

On the traditional route of reference West Africa / US Gulf, the equivalent time period charters went form $15,000 per day in 1999 to more than $50,000 per day currently.

The other new and significant phenomenon is that the time yardstick for this category of vessels is no longer West Africa but the European zone and in particular the Mediterranean. In addition to the traditional movements from the Sumed pipeline at Sidi Kerir and the exports of Russian crude from the Black Sea there is now, thanks to the progressive freeing-up of Iraqi sales, steady movements out of Ceyhan.

The projected crude oil exports from the Caspian Sea will help strengthen the importance of this zone in the coming years, as exemplified by the C.P.C. (Capesize Pipeline Consortium) which is due to come into operation as from July 2001. Its initial capacity with the Novorossiysk terminal will be about 28 million tons per year. The Turkish authorities will certainly insist on modern tonnage for the passage through the Bosporous.

In line with VLCCs, the age structure of Suezmax fleet has significantly changed over the last few years and the figures are today comparable in these two categories namely some 70 % less than 15 years and only 30 % above . As a reminder the ratio, only two years ago was 51/49 %.

In light of the general trend and the recent change in mentality in the overall market (valid for the three categories - VLCC / Suezmax / Aframax), a good number of the older vessels have repositioned themselves East of Suez where conditions are less strict. But for how long will their situation last ?
 

top

There again from an average of about $10,000 per day in 1999, the returns have literally taken off this year. On some routes in recent months, shipowners were obtaining TCE levels above $50,000 per day!

Rates rose spectacularly over the last twelve months in all areas. However, for the reasons already mentioned above, this phenomenon was slightly less pronounced East of Suez.

In the Mediterranean, levels were around $15/16,000 per day in January, and at $50,000 per day during the fourth quarter. In the North Sea where TCE rates are less significant, they started at US$20,000 per day to finish at the end of the year sometimes above $70,000 per day. As to the Caribbean, where the market remains extremely volatile, January saw slows of $15,000 per day while December hit highs of $50,000 per day.

In this segment of the tanker fleet, the age structure is slightly different from the two preceding categories, with 65 % less than 15 years and 35 % above. Nonetheless, it is important to realise that 27 % of the current fleet is between 15 - 25 years. This helps explain some draconian measures already taken by some charterers.

On the other hand, a considerable proportion of newly-built units are transporting refined products, which naturally limits even further the choice for the crude oil charterers.

Consequently the main oil companies complying to the new rules or recommendations in forces are confronted with a scarcity of supply and now have to adopt strategies which they rarely faced in the past. To ensure quality tonnage, nowadays, to fix tonnage with an earlier notice to owners. As the majority of voyages are relatively short, this means that vessels frequently have to perform two or even three intermediate voyages, thus putting a considerable risk in case of delays including bad weather or port congestion. Assuming these risks is yet another reason to expect the preserve on higher freight rates being maintained.
 




Shipping and Shipbuilding Markets in 2000

I N D E X

›››File
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Italian Interports: list World Ports: map
DATABASE
ShipownersShipbuilding and Shiprepairing Yards
ForwardersShip Suppliers
Shipping AgentsTruckers
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››› Meetings File
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(junge Welt)
››› Press Review File
FORUM of Shipping
and Logistics
Relazione del presidente Daniele Rossi
Napoli, 30 settembre 2020
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