SSY Base Oil Shipping Report


The U.S. market is busy and freights are firming, except routes to Asia. European routes are doing reasonably well, apart from the leg to Asia. Asian domestic markets are subdued, and export trades are slower too.

U.S. Gulf of Mexico
Demand is looking positive on the U.S. Gulf-to-Caribbean trade lane. Space is sparse to some destinations within the Caribbean, and even the short run into Mexico is seeing freights lift by a dollar or so.

Routes to the east coast of South America are especially tight. Contractual volumes are very strong and remain that way for the rest of the month. Outsiders are being brought on berth, but only for higher freight levels. We have heard of 8,000 tons of ethanol being done from Houston to Santos at $75/t for instance.

Transatlantic eastbound is equally strong. Ethanol is also one of the main driving forces behind the strength on this route, but we see styrene and aromatics coming into play too. There is undoubtedly some prompt space available, but owners are unwilling to accept anything less than $65/t for 5,000 ton lots from Houston to Rotterdam, and it is not impossible to be offered freights of up to $100/t from some speculative owners.

Demand is good into the Mediterranean too, and levels in the $80s and $90s/t are common for 5,000 ton lots into the eastern Mediterranean, depending on the ports involved.

U.S. Gulf-to-Far East is almost at a standstill however. Some owners have taken the step of reducing the number of ships they will send out this month in an attempt to reduce the downwards pressure on freights. Aromatics are beginning to be seen again, but mostly for just rate-checking purposes. Owners are pinning levels of mid $50s/t on 5,000 ton cargoes, mainport load, mainport discharge, but should one of these opportunities firm up, then even lower levels are achievable.

There is a steady if unexciting feel to the North Sea and the Balticmarket. Cargo volumes are similar to previous weeks, and freight levels are unchanged. Southbound into the Mediterranean is fairly tight, and there is good demand for shipping space. Base oils continue to show up, looking to move into Turkey and Egypt from the Baltic or Northwest Europe. Northbound business is stable with the usual mix of chemicals, vegetable oils and molasses noted.

Inter-Med business is running fairly well. There are perhaps a handful of prompt ships remaining unfixed, whereas most of the fleet has at least one weeks forward cover. Owners are looking to raise freight rates, in some case by 10 to 20 percent, and it is becoming harder to locate really competitive numbers. With the cost of bunker fuel being so high, owners are more reluctant to ballast long distances to pick up a cargo that will not even cover costs.

Transatlantic westbound is not that busy, but there are sufficient larger parcels that most scheduled carriers are full, whether it is reformate, or pyrolysis gasoline, or caustic or naphtha. There are also some smaller lots of base oil looking to move across.

Europe-to-Asia however is calm. Even the flow of base oils has diminished. The few cargoes there are seem to be composed of speciality grades such as acrylonitrile, phenol and cyclohexanone. Rates have languished in the mid $70s/t for 5,000 ton cargoes from Rotterdam to Far East mainports rather than slumping, as has happened in the U.S. April space is mostly accounted for, but there are not so many cargoes appearing for May, in which case the levels may waiver. There are several ships on berth to the west coast of India too, and these numbers could weaken over the next week or two.

As an indication of demand, a number of ships that were open last week on the domestic Asian market still appear to be open this week. China appears to be reluctant to import as much as before, especially aromatics. Instead, mono ethylene glycol seems to be one of the main products heading in that direction, chiefly from Taiwan. From Ulsan to mid China, 3,000 ton parcels are fetching low-to-mid $20s/t, whilst to South China owners are bagging freights in the high $20s and up to $30/t.

Export business has suffered in the wake of the plant problems in Japan, although some units are beginning to become operational again. All the same, products such as sulphuric acid and caustic that were previously busy to Europe and the Americas are now less evident. Instead, we have seen 16,000 tons of caustic fixed from Qatar to Australia, a destination that would mainly be served out of Asia.

The Middle East Gulf and Indian Ocean markets remain super busy, with plenty of demand both east and westbound. Freights are very firm. For instance, there are reports that 11,000 to 12,000 tons of base oils from one port in Iran to two ports in mid China paid high $80s/t. In another example, 3,000 ton parcels of chemicals from one western India port to two Mediterranean ports have been booked at $110/t. Palm oil markets are coming alive too, with more business quoted from the Malacca Straits to India and also to China.

Adrian Brown is senior market analyst for chemicals and base oils with SSY Shipbrokers, London. Information about SSY can be found at Adrian Brown, in the U.K., can be reached at or by phone at +44 1207-507507. In the London office SSYs Jordi Maymi can be reached at or +44 20 7977 7560.

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