SSY Base Oil Shipping Report


Europe had another busy week, although not quite as frantic as the previous week. The U.S. Gulf has picked up, and there are fewer open ships. Asia is very tight on space, and rates have jumped again.

U.S. Gulf of Mexico
Many of the ships that were open in the U.S. Gulf last week have now fixed away, and because the region had a reputation as the wrong place to have a ship open, owners have preferred not to send across further vessels. Consequently, the resupply of tonnage is minimal, yet demand seems to be a bit stronger this week.

Transatlantic eastbound for example saw numerous traders all seeking to ship styrene to Europe. Out of all the enquiries, only a handful of cargoes will probably be booked, but owners are no longer talking of rates in the mid $40s/t but well into the $50s/t. Further demand is provided by acetic acid, monoethylene glycol, ethanol, phenol, vegetable oil and biodiesel.

Space has almost all gone on the scheduled carriers from the U.S. Gulf to the east coast of South America as well. Some base oil cargoes have been fixed in this direction, as well as to Nigeria, with additional cargoes of caustic, clean petroleum products, methanol and solvents being booked on some of the extra vessels drafted onto the service at the last minute.

U.S. Gulf-to-Caribbean has not been particularly active this week, but bad weather in the region is causing some ships to run late, and so space appears quite scarce.

U.S. Gulf-to-Far East sees traders poking around with possible styrene enquiries, while aromatics, phenol and solvents have been discussed too. Rates out of the U.S. Gulf have not generally altered, apart from the route across the Atlantic, but should some of the prospective enquiries firm up, the area could be faced with a possible shortage of space.

The frantic fixing of vessels on the deep-sea routes out of Europe has abated slightly this week with the arrival of end of the month and a set of new commodity prices for March. However, there are still a lot of charterers keen to find prompt space, even if it does encroach into March.

Transatlantic for instance saw several additional ships fixed for 10,000 ton cargoes of aromatics from Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam to the U.S. Gulf for levels that were touching $70/t, and repeat business is on the cards. With a possible resurgence of business coming out of the U.S. Gulf afterwards, we may see owners who rarely go transatlantic decide to step up to the mark and put a ship on berth. So far, there is good demand for benzene, toluene, paraxylene, mixed xylenes, caustic, reformate, pyrolysis gasoline, sulphuric acid, UAN and even biodiesel.

The biodiesel is a new development, and we see further shipments of biodiesel into the U.S. Gulf taking place from Argentina and the Far East due to less U.S. production and changes in U.S. domestic heating policies that make it attract to import.

Europe-to-Far East has cooled, to the extent that several March vessels still have bits of space. Rates remain quite firm; expect to pay levels of $120-$130/t for 2,000 to 3,000 ton cargoes from Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam to Southeast Asia. Larger cargoes however are harder to shift and would require some expensive additional ships to go on berth.

Europe-to-India and the Middle East Gulf is also active and drinking from the same pool of open tonnage. Cargoes such as acrylonitrile, pyrolysis gasoline, ethylene dichloride, phosphoric acid and vegetable oils are plentiful, but rates have not changed.

Coastal markets are typical busy for the time of year, and there is a fair amount of restocking taking place. The cold weather too has inspired the clean petroleum products market, and many owners are making reasonable returns trading in hydrocarbons. Rates have notched up slightly on a few routes, such as southbound into the Mediterranean and intra-Mediterranean routes, but only by 1-2/t.

Domestic Asia markets have been very active again, and it was a fruitless exercise attempting to find open space at the end of February. In fact much of March is already covered, especially on ships under 10,000 dwt. Intra-Far East has seen many base oil enquiries, but only a moderate number of enquiries for aromatics and styrene. All the same, demand can often exceed supply, and this is the case on all the other trades such as northbound from Southeast Asia where a lot of aromatics are quoted into China and Taiwan.

Even intra-Southeast Asia has a fair amount of demand, including aromatics, base oils, styrene and ethylene dichloride. Often, it is not the freight that kills the business but the lack of tonnage on the right dates. In some instances, rates in the $60s/t have been noted on certain deals northbound.

Asia export demand is stable. Benzene still looks attractive to send to the U.S., but Asian supplies are tighter and few fixtures have been concluded. Competitively-priced caustic from China is generating a lot of demand from around the world while cargoes of biodiesel are quoted to both Europe and the U.S. Parcels of chemicals, such as styrene, acetone, ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, vinyl acetate monomer, phosphoric acid and used cooking oil are quoted back to Europe, but we are not seeing much evidence of base oil exports in this direction.

The Middle East Gulf-India region is also providing a lot of employment for the ships in the area. Westbound numbers to Europe have risen on the back of tight tonnage supply. From the Middle East Gulf to the Mediterranean, 15,000 tons of MTBE could only generate interest at $75/t on smaller ships. On a 45,000 tonner, $65/t may have been possible, but ships of this size are very restricted as to which ports they can call in the Mediterranean.

Eastbound rates have been firm for several weeks already, and the majority of vessels are well booked. There is talk that a series of chemical plant shutdowns in the region could see less demand, but most of those producers are already building stock levels in advance of the turnarounds and do not expect much disruption of supply to their customers.

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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