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08 December 2021 The on-line newspaper devoted to the world of transports 02:08 GMT+1

The transport of refined oil products in 2004

The freight market
     Medium Range
     Long Range  
Demand for shipping 
Second-hand market

see also The crude oil transport

For the second year in a raw, 2004 will remain a memorable year for owners, since the market for product tankers registered an increased level of average daily returns. There has been a progress of over 20 % for all size of ships both for spot and period business.

As in 2003, the exceptional rise in this market has been due to the high level of growth in the US and the Far East, even if the development of the "paper" market, aided by some speculation particularly on the TC1 (75,000 mt naphtha Middle East Gulf / Japan) and the TC2 (33,000 mt UMS Continent / US Atlantic Coast) routes, helped contribute to the strong performance of the freight market.

The rise in rates, which began in December 2003, peaked in February, with daily returns approaching $ 40,000 per day. The drop registered in the months of March and April corresponded to an easing in the fuel oil market, before rates started to perk up again in May and June at around $ 25,000 per day. The traditional low point in the summer was around $ 20,000 per day and the expected recovery came at the beginning of October, which allowed the Medium Range product carriers (MR) to enjoy once again returns of $ 40,000 per day, whereas the Long Range (LR) were flirting with the $ 60,000 per day level.

Like last year, the rates paid for period charters were largely lagging behind the spot market. Nonetheless, if charterers were reticent about committing themselves to long term business at high levels, they accepted to pay record levels for shorter periods and started using floating rates agreements indexed on the spot market or linked to a profit sharing scheme.

However, whilst the market was able to absorb the some 130 MR ships, totalling 5.5 million dwt delivered in 2004, there is some doubt as to the chances of repeating this exploit in 2005, 2006, and 2007…

The evolution of product tanker freight rates in 2004

Yields for Handysize ships surpassed those obtained in 2003 by more than 20 % at nearly $ 25,000 per day, despite the "ice class" premium being virtually non-existent due to the mild winter season which started in 2004. Whilst these ships were most frequently employed in the Atlantic zone, some started to find employment around the Far East, especially the "shallow draft" units with a capacity of 45,000 cbm.


Within the European zone, both in North Europe as well as in the Mediterranean - Black Sea area, over half of the fleet was used once again in the transport of fuel oil and crude, with owners not hesitating to switch from clean to dirty and vice-versa, based on the rates differentials that could be obtained respectively in both sectors.

Charterers were not really keen to commit themselves to long period business due to the high expectations of owners, but starting in October and facing a strong surge in spot rates, they finally had to accept paying levels above $ 20,000 per day for periods of 12 to 18 months.


Bro Etienne
37,179 dwt, delivered in 2004 by Jinling, owned by Broström Tankers

Ships operating in the Atlantic benefited from the sustained level of American demand for gasoline and fuel oil. Daily returns for a 33,000 t voyage - UMS - Continent / US, varied between $ 16,250, at the bottom of the market during the summer, to $ 40,000 per day in February and December, with the annual average working out at $ 26,500 per day.

Parallel to this, a traffic of gas oil developed between the US Gulf and Europe. In 2004 Europe imported 11.5 million barrels of gas oil from the US, which is the equivalent of 13 % of the American production.

As in 2003, ships operating in the East of Suez took advantage of the economic strength of the Far East zone, led by the growth in China, India, and Japan. Despite a seasonal decline in the spring, returns remained comfortably above $ 20,000 per day, notably after the month of October.

Long term period business was scarce, but traders such as Vitol, Trafigura, and especially Glencore were very active in the short period business (3 to 12 months) and did not hesitate to pay rates above $ 30,000 per day to the extent that they were able to hedge their positions on the "paper" market.


37,178 dwt, delivered in 2004 by Hyundai Mipo, operated by OMI Corp.

The LR2 and the LR1 were also particularly helped by the strong demand coming from throughout the Far Eastern zone, notably China and Japan. As from mid-September, daily returns went from $ 30,000 to $ 60,000 per day for the LR1, whereas the LR2 were over $ 70,000 per day.

In this sector of the market, the "paper" business has an important role, but if the route TC1 (LR2 - 75,000 mt - Middle East Gulf / Japan) was heavily traded at the beginning of the year, it soon became obvious that the market was far more liquid on the TC5 route (55,000 mt - Middle East Gulf / Japan).

The market was also well supported by the numerous movements of kerosene from the Middle East Gulf to Europe and by the European exports of distillate and gasoline to the US.

Some long term period business was concluded on ice-class LR2 ships, but it was the LR1 size which was being sought after for trading clean products, fuel oil and crude. The majority of these fixtures were done in the first half of the year, which explains why the rates were around the $ 22,000 / 23,000 per day for periods of 3 years.

Despite the large number of new ships being delivered, 2005 should again be a year favourable to owners of product tankers. Even with a considerable increase in modern tonnage, the complete renewal of the fleet will be far from being accomplished by the end of 2005.

Delivery of new ships should result in: 

  • ships from 30 to 40,000 dwt: 48 ships totalling 1.75 million dwt,

  • ships from 40 to 55,000 dwt: 78 ships totalling 3.70 million dwt,

  • ships from 55 to 90,000 dwt: 40 ships totalling 2.75 million dwt, to which will be added some 20 coated Aframax tankers totalling nearly 2.0 million dwt.

Supply of tonnage will therefore increase significantly especially since the demolition level is low. At current rates, even the simple decision to put a vessel in technical lay-up is to be taken by the top management of the company. Notwithstanding, at the end of 2005, the Major's eligible fleet will only comprise some 650 ships for a little less than 30 million dwt against over 950 ships and 35.0 million dwt at the beginning of 1999.


The withdrawal of the older ships has been postponed due to the fact that certain niche business continues to be very remunerative: gas oil movements from the Black Sea, clean products for West Africa or even the market for vegoils and molasses. In addition, the high freight levels have convinced several owners to undertake necessary refitting work to obtain the mandatory certificates (C.A.S. / CAP 1 or 2), which will allow them to operate their ships beyond their twentieth anniversary.

(C.A.S.=Condition Assesment Scheme)

Nonetheless the international safety measures and the vetting services of oil companies continue to put pressure on owners of old vessels, whose days are numbered. We predict therefore that demolition will gradually increase throughout the coming year.


Cape Limboh
15,305 dwt, built in 2003 by Okean shipyards for Petromarine

Demand for shipping of clean and dirty products bound to the American zone or the Far East has been, like in 2003, the main factor maintaining the healthy state of the freight market.

Once again, it was the fuel oil market in the Atlantic zone which sparked off the rise in rates in mid-September. At the end of November only, rates obtained by the clean products have catched up with the levels achieved by fuel oil and crude. The clean products followed this trend a month later and they were able to match and then overtake the dirty product rates only by the end of November.

In the Far East, the increase in rates started at the beginning of September, namely two months earlier than usual. Then the very high levels tended to tumble, as much due to lack of available tonnage as due to technical shutdowns at several refineries in the Middle East Gulf.

However, the fundamental explanation is the continuing high level of imports, resulting from a lack of local refineries able to meet domestic demand in oil products. It is known that in the US ecological factors are curbing the expansion of refinery capacity and that the increase in capacities are not keeping pace with the demand in the Far East.

Under these conditions, the demand for transport of refined oil products should continue to increase in 2005, especially as the trend toward longer trade routes is likely to continue. There are even some projects being carried out to transport naphtha and condensate from the Mediterranean to China!


As we stated last year, "it is unavoidable that the large number of vessels being delivered in the next 2 to 3 years will affect the product tankers market". One can add that there has been some doubt expressed recently as to the persistence of the American growth and the reliability of the Chinese expansion (at the current pace of 9.5 % per year, the Chinese economy will double within 6 years)….and finally cannot exclude the risk of a financial crisis in the Asian zone.
Nonetheless, except a major event, the year 2005 gives every sign of being propitious to product tankers owners. The arrival of over a hundred new ships should however dampen the volatility of the market and cause a modest drop in the daily average returns.

The product tankers second-hand market

The steady rise of product tankers freight rates during the year 2004 also had an impact on second-hand values. In a higher volume of transactions (around 150 Medium Range and Handy product tankers built since 1980 have changed hand in the course of the year) prices have dramatically risen.

The value of a five year-old standard double-hull 45,000 tonner, which was around $28 million at the end of 2003, progressed to $32 million by the end of June and up to an average of $39 million in December.

This rise also applied to the older units as, for instance, the value of a 20 year, single-hull, 45,000 dwt started at around $5 million in January 2004, to reach $7 million at the end of June and ended the year at around $9 million.

Lastly, a single-hull 40,000 dwt product tanker built at the end of the 1980's, for which one had to spend $11.5 million at the end of 2003, ended the year at around $16 million.

see also: the crude oil transport

Shipping and Shipbuilding Markets in 2004


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