SSY Base Oil Shipping Report


The last week of February has not been as vigorous as would be expected and the markets in the U.S., Europe and Asia all felt rather deflated.

U.S. Gulf

It has been all rather sedate in the U.S. Gulf over the past week. Natural gas prices comfortably exceeded $6 per one million BTUs in the U.S. Gulf, which is the first time in a while they have been at these levels, prompting suggestions that higher feedstock prices are hitting the U.S export potential right now.

U.S. Gulf to Caribbean has certainly been slow, but this may be related more to the heavy fog that has brought the Houston Ship Channel and several other major waterways to a halt. In the ensuing mayhem, shipments are being postponed or even cancelled, while ships positions mount up.

The route from the U.S. Gulf to the east coast of South America sees minimal trade.

U.S. Gulf-to-Europe is endowed with a couple of styrene possibilities, some used cooking oil, cyclohexane and a small parcel of base oils from Curacao, but there are vessels on berth that have space and owners are a bit more acquiescent about lowering their freight ideas.

U.S. Gulf to Mediterranean, on the other hand, remains extremely tight on space, and one shipper looking to place a small lot of tallow into Turkey has even been checking the possibility of sending the cargo to Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam and then transhipping it from there, which would likely cost some $30 – $40 per metric ton more than a direct shipment from the U.S. Gulf.

U.S. Gulf to Far East has been very slow again, and owners who have ships that are about to load but still require completion cargoes have been very aggressively dropping their freight ideas. It would seem that 10,000 tons of easy chemicals from Houston to Mainport Far East may have gone in the low $60s/t, rather than the low-mid $80s/t that are currently being quoted for March and April shipment.

U.S. Gulf to India-Middle East Gulf is felt to be a stable route. Some space remains unfixed but there are also cargoes such as ethylene dichloride and vegetable oil that have yet to be covered.


The market in the North Sea and Baltic remains tight on prompt space, but in some instances this owes more to ongoing bad weather issues and berthing delays than the actual volume of cargoes quoted. There are some owners who have barely fixed anything over the past week, and their ships are not that far from being prompt.

The southbound market into the Mediterranean, however, is very strong and there are plenty of cargo requirements. Space is tight and freight levels are strong. Base oils are part of the overall cargo mix, but are equally struggling to find suitable candidates.

Northbound is a little less busy, but so far freight levels talked are at similar levels to last week.

Inter-Mediterranean markets are strong and in some cases freights have jumped by 15 to 20 percent. All the same, the amount of new business quoted going into March is not that significant and for now March is looking a bit quieter.

Transatlantic westbound has seen some very high freights for prompt shipment – well above the usual mid $40s/t that have been fixed for early March, but these are date-sensitive shipments and therefore command higher freights. Looking forward, there have been some cargoes of benzene, pyrolysis gasoline, base oils, sulphuric acid and cumene, but they should be relatively easy to cover at more moderate freights.

Europe-to-Far East is purely notional since there is just about no space available through March at the moment. The extra ship that was fancied to come on berth has in fact been re-routed elsewhere. Base oils may be seeing enquiries from Asia but freight levels are likely to be too high on non-scheduled ships to permit the arbitrage to work out of Europe.

Europe to India-Middle East Gulf sees a lot of demand and only a minimal amount of space. Some acid, vegetable oil and aromatics cargoes have been quoted around for 3-4 weeks without finding any vessels, but the Middle East Gulf-India market is not that alluring right now and owners prefer to keep their ships in home waters.


It could have been a busier week on the domestic Asia markets. Somewhere along the way, the steam seems to have run out of the aromatics market and there have been far fewer enquiries to send aromatics into China. It has not been totally flat either, and we have seen something like 50,000 tons of aromatics to be shipped within the region, but these totals fall a long way short of what is normally quoted. There have been alternatives to aromatics as well, such as methanol, acids, base oils, clean petroleum, biodiesel and molasses, and quite a few of these requirements have been for prompt lifting which suits well all those ships that are left with prompt space. Rates have not really done much locally.

Asia export routes are still busy with benzene into the U.S., with freights in the low-mid $60s/t for cargoes between 6,000 and 15,000 tons. Business to Europe consists of mainly smaller parcels. Base oils in the amount of 3,000 tons from Singapore to Le Havre, France are expected to yield around $150/t, which is similar to a parcel shipped earlier this month.

Palm oil trades into the Indian Ocean have been sluggish, but the parcels trade from Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia to India-Middle East Gulf is really quite strong and 2,000 ton parcels from Korea to Middle East Gulf can fetch rates of $70-75/t. By all accounts, trade out of the India-Middle East Gulf region has reduced even further over the past week, especially on the eastbound route, where freights have slipped slightly. Westbound business is not great but rates have mostly held over this past week. Regional business has been rather slow and there is space available within the region.

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

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