SSY Base Oil Shipping Report


It has been another exciting week for U.S. exports, with plenty of cargoes moving all over the place. Europe has not been idle, but although freights are firmer they have not increased in the same manner as in the U.S. Asia was quiet, as to be expected during the festivities.

U.S. Gulf of Mexico
Anyone wishing to ship out of the U.S. Gulf in February will need to be patient, and will probably need to dig deeper to pay the freight bill.

The only exception has been the Gulf-to-Asia route which saw roughly unchanged freights over the past week. This is quite likely down to the lunar holidays in Asia. Some observers suggest that contractual demand is lower for the rest of the month, which could eventually spark a freight war between owners and lead to lower freights on the route. Others sense that spot market demand will be strong after the holidays, and that space will rapidly tighten.

Apart from that, all the other services from the U.S. Gulf had a good week. Eastbound transatlantic registered even higher freights, some well into the $60s/t for 10,000 ton cargoes from the U.S. Gulf to Rotterdam. Benzene and styrene have joined the list of commodities looking to go over in February, which already includes ethanol, biodiesel and masses of vegetable oil.

U.S. Gulf-to-east coast South America saw much higher freight levels too, not so much because of a huge spike in demand, but more because the pool of open tonnage in the U.S. Gulf has been severely depleted by strong demand from all over. Whatever cargoes there were in the market, mostly styrene and caustic, attracted some very high freight numbers.

Rates for 5,000 ton parcels from Houston to Santos are now pushing into mid $60s/t territory. There is consequently just a tiny handful of ships left open in the area that can truly consider going in any direction.

U.S. Gulf-to-Caribbean routes too have benefited from a surge in demand from Venezuela after a gap of several months. There are still a couple of units that can manage February cargoes, so rates have not changed a lot so far.

Although it still remains the least-favoured of areas in which to end up, most ships are finding ways out of Europe again afterwards. Its not busy, but there are opportunities.

Transatlantic westbound for example is slow, but there have been a number of naphtha and pyrolysis gasoline shipments that pay relatively well and ensure a full cargo. By limiting the number of loading ports, and the time taken, these large lots offer a reasonable alternative to parcelling up. It is right to point out that high prices for bunker fuel have removed any profit margin, but it does mean the ships are sailing and are not idle.

For those owners wishing to linger, the clean petroleum market in the North Sea and Baltic is in a busy phase right now and provides a reasonable existence. Other possibilities include taking base oils or even caustic to Brazil, or heading down to South Africa with clean petroleum.

Strong demand is being seen in base oils to either India or the Middle East Gulf, thanks to competitive European pricing. Base oils are noted on the cargo lists for Asia too, along with more traditional cargoes such as phenol, butanol, acrylonitrile and xylenes. Scheduled space is quite tight for February going East, and freights in the $80s/t are being reported for 5,000 ton lots from Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam to principal ports in the Far East.

Without doubt, the lunar new year festivities in Asia meant a much quieter market overall. There was however a raft of enquiries for loading immediately prior to the holiday, as well as a lot of business quoted within Asia for shipment later in second half February. Cargoes include styrene, benzene, xylene and pyrolysis gasoline, mostly for China and Taiwan discharge, but also with a number of southbound and northbound movements too. Freights are very marginally down, but only by a dollar or so, and in some cases remain unchanged.

Export demand continues to thrive, with a number of benzene cargoes quoted back to Europe in particular. Freights are at around $80/t for 5,000 ton cargoes from Korea to Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam.

Some suggest that rates from India and the Middle East Gulf region have softened, but given the substantial amount of business on offer this is unlikely to develop into a trend. Westbound especially remains unpopular, and many of the cargoes originate from Iran which is another reason why many ship owners are unable to participate. While the ships bringing the base oils, vegetable oil and phosphoric acid into the region from the West will be welcome as a means to export from the region afterwards, there are not so many imports of palm oil from Asia, which means that the total number of open ships remains roughly unchanged.

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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