SSY Base Oil Shipping Report


There has been a slight upwards shift in U.S. demand, but rates remain weak. Europe is steady with no major changes either way. Asian markets also look steady.

U.S. Gulf of Mexico
A quick glance through the open positions here is sufficient to realise that there has been a moderate amount of cargo booked over the past week.

By no means has it been enough to cause a tightening of space, since in a large number of cases the ships have only found enough work to last a week or two. It is perhaps more of a breathing space, and it depends on the next few days whether this will be prolonged or not.

There have been more workable cargoes on the U.S. Gulf to Far East route, typically, paraxylene, mixed xylenes, acrylonitrile and ethylene dichloride. There are still ships around for loading the second half of August in this direction, but rates are beginning to lift and depending on position, a typical 5,000 ton parcel of easy chemicals from Houston to principal ports in the Far East would command close to high $50s/t.

Several ships have managed to fix on the transatlantic leg across to Europe, too. In some cases, the rates are not pretty, with some suggestions of sub $40/t being worked for 10,000 ton parcels from the U.S. Atlantic Coast to Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam. For some owners whose vessels have been idle for so long, this kind of fire sale does need to be done.

The U.S. Gulf to India and the Middle East Gulf is attracting attention from several owners at the same time, which is causing freights to soften. For Houston to the West Coast of India, 5,000 ton base oils are reported to have gone at around $80/t, and should the cargo load from Port Arthur this will add a further $5.00/t or so.

The U.S. Gulf to South American is also seeing a slight softening of freight rates. A couple of outsiders have taken the plunge and gone on berth. Evidently, there have been some base oils moving on this route, but for easy chemical parcels, owners are talking about levels of mid $70s/t basis from Houston to Santos.

The U.S. Gulf to Caribbean route is mostly unchanged. There is not a lot of parcel work to be done, but there are a number of larger clean petroleum and caustic requirements that have helped make inroads on the amount of open space.

Cargo volumes in the North Sea and Baltic have been adequate to employ virtually all the ships that habitually trade in the area.

It is not wall-to-wall employment of course, and there are still good opportunities to fix at attractive rates, but bunker prices are high again which tends to cause freights to consolidate.

Southbound into the Mediterranean has slumped, however. First half August sees a lot of tonnage on berth, or looking to go on berth, with the result that freights are down. A 5,000 ton parcel from North West Europe to the French Mediterranean went for less than 30/t, compared to the usual 30s/t low.

Base oil traders have been trying to obtain levels under $50/t for Turkey, while caustic traders are aiming for even lower levels.

Northbound has been steady with nothing dramatic reported.

Inter-Mediterranean markets are busy, and prompt space can be quite scarce in the West Mediterranean. There is a fair bit of base oil demand too, whether into Turkey, East Mediterranean or North Africa.

Transatlantic westbound is quieter compared to recent weeks. Pyrolysis gasoline is still deemed workable, but traders pulled away from fixing any styrene. As expected, rates have dropped back into the low-mid $40s/t for 5,000 ton parcels for Rotterdam to Houston.

Europe to the Far East continues to attract a reasonable amount of trade, though perhaps slightly less than before. Rates are stable.

Europe to India and the Middle East Gulf is stable, too, much to the chagrin of base oil traders trying to drive down rates out of the Black Sea. Again, bunkers are a primary driver, but there have also been possibilities to ship vegetable oil, pyrolysis gas, phosphoric acid and aromatics which creates alternative demand.

In the Domestic Asian market, there are still a number of cargoes outstanding that require August shipment into China. Base oils are not among them, however, and instead demand focuses on aromatics, acetone and styrene.

If there is some degree of flexibility in timing, most cargoes should end up being covered.

Export demand sees benzene to the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, with biodiesel, palm oil, molasses, solvents and acetic acid directed to Europe. Freights are all roughly unchanged.

India and the Middle East Gulf is quiet overall. There are occasional flashes of demand, both westbound and eastbound, but there tends to be enough tonnage open in the region to ensure freights stay under control.

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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