Tanker Market in March: Declines the Norm
In its latest monthly report, OPEC noted that average dirty tanker spot freight rates declined further in March, continuing the downward trend seen in the first quarter. Lower rates were reported in most dirty classes, mainly attributed to high vessel supply, while market activities remain thin, in general. Other factors, including refinery maintenance and weather also weighed on tonnage demand during the month. Average dirty tanker freight rates saw a drop from the previous month, as Suezmax and Aframax rates dropped by 13% and 9%, m-o-m, respectively. Clean tanker spot freight rates showed some improvement in the West, supported mainly by higher rates in Northwest Europe on the back of balanced tonnage availability and occasional shortages in prompt vessel supply. In the East, lack of activity dominated different classes resulting in a drop in rates across several routes.
According to preliminary data, global fixtures inched up by a slight by 0.8% in March compared with the previous month. Compared with the same period a year earlier, global fixtures showed an increase of 48% in March. OPEC spot fixtures rose by 1.15 mb/d to average 19.86 mb/d. Fixtures on the Middle-East-to-East route averaged 11.04 mb/d in March, which is higher by 0.38 mb/d compared with the previous month, while fixtures on the Middle East-to-West route averaged 2.05 mb/d, a drop of 0.17 mb/d m-o-m.
Sailings and arrivals
According to preliminary data, OPEC sailings rose by 0.9% m-o-m in March to average 25.48 mb/d. This is an increase of 4% from the same month a year earlier. On the contrary, Middle East sailings declined by 0.17 mb/d from the previous month. Arrivals in March were mixed, registering mostly increases in North America, Europe and West Asia by 7.5%, 1.5% and 2.8%, respectively, compared to the previous month. Concurrently, arrivals to the Far East showed a drop of 4.8% from the previous month to average 8.63 mb/d.
Dirty tanker freight rates
Very large crude carriers (VLCCs)
VLCC freight rates were the only class in the dirty sector that showed positive earnings in March, although the gains remain relatively low. VLCC average freight rates went up by WS6 points, or 14%, to stand at WS49 points over the month. Improvements were seen on all reported routes.
Stable demand for VLCCs at the beginning of March set the platform for an increase in rates; however, a decline in cargo demand following the completion of March requirements, combined with a lack of tonnage demand in the East put pressure on the freight rates and limited gains in several areas. As a result, VLCC spot freight rates for tankers operating on the Middle East to-East routes showed a slight increase, up by WS8 points from the previous month to stand at WS60 points in March. Freight rates registered for tankers on the Middle East-to-West routes went up by WS5 points m-o-m to average WS30 points, while VLCC spot freight rates for tankers trading on West Africa-to-East routes increased by 11% m-o-m to stand at WS58 points in March.
Average Suezmax spot freight rates declined in March. Rates for tankers operating on the West Africa-toUS Gulf Coast (USGC) route decreased by 19% m-o-m to average WS51 points. Rates on the NWE-toUSGC route fell by 6% in March from the previous month, to average WS47 points. The Suezmax market had a negative start to the beginning of the month, with rates falling across all trading routes to below operational cost levels. The decline in freight rates came on the back of tonnage builds and few loading requirements, with exceptionally quiet periods in the main markets such as the USGC, North Sea and West Africa, which all showed limited tonnage demand in general and rates ended mostly flat. A short-lived tightening of Suezmax availability in the East supported freight rates temporarily, or at least prevented them from dropping further.
Aframax freight rates mostly declined in March from the previous month, while all freight rates remained above levels registered in the same month a year earlier. Spot freight rates for tankers operating on the Mediterranean-to-Mediterranean stayed at the same level as in the previous month and averaged at WS95 points in March. Spot rates registered on the Mediterraneanto-NWE route declined by WS2 points m-o-m to average WS89 points. Freight rates on both routes were higher by 9% than seen in the same month a year earlier. In the North Sea and the Baltic, average spot freight rates were not supported by demand for the ice class as the winter season is about to end, although the market did capitalise on a point when the Baltic market was firming due to lesser availability of the ice class.
In the Caribbean, freight rates for Aframax tankers operating on the Caribbean-to-US East Coast (USEC) route declined by 30% from the previous month to average WS99 points in March.
Aframax freight rates in the East increased slightly from the previous month as spot freight rates registered on the Indonesia-to-East routes rose by WS4 points m-o-m, to average WS97 points.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide