SSY Base Oil Shipping Report


U.S. cargo volumes dropped away, exposing the next round of prompt open tonnage in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Europe had another steady week, while Asian markets continue to excite on some routes.

U.S. Gulf of Mexico
Volatile commodity pricing has been blamed for some of the downfall of the U.S. market this past week, with traders backing off from deals for fear that crude oil could go lower. At the same time, however, we have seen assorted reports suggesting that tight commodity supply in the United States may be another reason for the lack of demand.

Whatever the reason, the U.S. market went very quiet all of a sudden. It happened too swiftly for most of owners with prompt open tonnage which leaves quite a few ships stranded without much hope of employment.

The Gulf to the Caribbean,for example, sees quite a few vessels left hanging around and not much quoted.

The Gulf to East Coast South America is not hot in terms of spot demand. Contractual business is fairly brisk by all accounts, but nobody has much interest in spot demand. Mention has been made of base oils looking to ship from the Gulf to Argentina, the rate for which would likely be mid $70s/t for a 5,000 ton cargo.

Transatlantic eastbound sagged and few, if any, of the benzene and styrene cargoes were booked. There is hope that once prices settle at the new lower levels the door will open again as fundamentally Europe is short of these products.

Ethanol has taken over as the main grade, but volumes are large and do little to assist ships that are already on berth and looking for completion cargoes. Rates have dropped very slightly to around $47/t for 5,000 ton cargo from Houston to Rotterdam, and may go lower for very prompt loading, after which they may lift back up again.

The Gulf to Far East route saw very little action last week. Again, supply issues were one of the main reasons. Traders did look at paraxylene for a while, but nothing really serious materialised. There has been talk of base oils possibly to be exported, but with Asia prices out of sync this is not really likely.

The Gulf to India and Middle East Gulf also had a slow week, and space is there in October to be fixed. Rates are still stuck in the low $80s/t for 5,000 ton parcels from Houston to Mumbai.

Fortunately for ship owners in the North Sea and Baltic region, cargo volumes resumed quite strongly, and since many of the cargoes required September lifting, a large part of the fleet succeeded in securing employment for the immediate future.

Southbound into the Mediterranean also fared well with plenty of demand, although perhaps fewer base oil requirements were noted. Rates generally remain solid.

Northbound activity has been adequate, and most vessels have a reasonable programme of employment.

Inter-Mediterranean trades managed to occupy almost all the available fleet, and there are only scattered examples of prompt positions, which is fairly normal for a region that is source of employment for around 100 ships.

Transatlantic demand is dull and rates are flat. Most cargoes are larger ones, such as sulphuric acid, urea ammonia nitrate, reformate, magnesium chloride solution and caustic, which are useful to provide a base platform on which to load. But there are not many of the smaller, better-paying parcels that owners relish.

Europe to the Far East unsurprisingly was also quiet. Sadly for owners, Europe has neither the cheapest of products for sale, nor the physical availabilities and this restricts what can be shipped. So far, rates are holding in the mid $80s/t for 5,000 ton cargoes from Rotterdam to principal scheduled ports in the Far East, but there are gaps among the ships loading in October, which may bring some pressure to bear on these numbers.

Europe to India and the Middle East Gulf has been uneventful on base oils. However, vegetable oils have begun to appear from the Black Sea to India and the Middle East Gulf again, with rates reported to be in the low $60s/t for 15,000 to 20,000 ton cargoes. This represents the lower range that base oil cargoes would command from the Black Sea, and with Iranian producers constantly lowering their selling prices, the arbitrage for Black Sea material looks to be finished.

The Domestic Asia market is probably the most active of the short-sea services around the globe, but it is still a long way short of its maximum capability. There is a note of urgency among some enquiries, especially those on the intra-Far East routes into China and Taiwan and where a September loading is imperative.

Golden Week starts Oct. 1, and ideally the product should be committed or on the water by then, but there is clearly a lack of prompt space and many orders are being circulated week after week in the hope of picking up a ship that is delayed or cancelled.

Southbound is also quite active, and there are some base oils among the chemical parcels.

Northbound is fairly lively, with its share of base oil business, while intra-South East Asia has seen predominantly cargoes of aromatics, caustic and ethylene dichloride.

Export business is a bit muted this week. Theoretically, we could see some aromatics trade to the United States and Europe. We could also see some base oils traffic to Europe and the United States if reports of surplus Chinese base oils at competitive prices are correct.

Rates are still very much in the $90s/t for 5,000 ton parcels from Korea to Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam, and in the high $50s to low $60s/t to the U.S. Gulf.

Palm oil demand continues to be strong, keeping all export rates firm. This week it has been the turn of the westbound route from India to the Middle East Gulf to shine, with plenty of demand noted, including some base oils.

Numbers are pushing into the $70s/t for 5,000 ton parcels into the Mediterranean.

Eastbound has been quite busy t with glycols, methanol, MTBE, paraxylene, orthoxylene, ethanol, canola oil aromatics and base oils. However, owners are keen to send their ships back quickly to load palm oils at high rates into India which means they are quite happy to skip backhaul business.

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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