SSY Base Oil Shipping Report


All markets are a little subdued after the Easter holidays, but Europe is probably still the busiest area, particularly on the domestic coastal trades. The U.S. has had a better week and might eclipse Europe if demand keeps up. Asia has been left looking rather slow by comparison but things may pick up once work resumes after local holidays.

U.S. Gulf

U.S. Gulf-to-Far East has probably had its busiest week of the year so far. A lot of material has been fixed, including styrene, ethylene dichloride, ethanol, acrylonitrile, phenol, cumene and glycol and April space is now virtually non-existent. Rates have risen but there is still quite a lot of May tonnage still looking for cargoes and so rates have not soared. Meanwhile, 5,000-ton parcels from Houston-to-Mainport Far East now fetch around $60s per metric ton. There is a chance that some of the parcels that should have loaded in April will now seek out some of the May ships, in which case rates may continue to rise. Base oils have not been visible on this route.

The U.S. Gulf-to-India/Middle East Gulf route has tightened space, thanks largely to heavy contractual obligations, and there is not much space remaining for April and May. Some large cargoes have been moving, such as ethylene dichloride and ethanol, and it would also appear that the traders are busy again with base oils, a number of which have been booked for the end of April and early May. Rates have lifted slightly, so that $80/t seems to be the figure that is being seen for 5,000-ton parcels from Houston-to-the west coast of India.

From U.S. Gulf-to-Europe the owners maintain that there are still plenty of styrene opportunities to fill their ships to Europe. Eventually though, this trade will ease as the European plants come back onstream and then it will be interesting to see how ships fill. At the moment, rates are in the $50-51/t region for 5,000-ton parcels from Houston-to-Rotterdam. Some small base oil cargoes have been noted but it is irregular business for traders, with the majority of base oils on this route transported under long-term contracts.

The U.S. Gulf-to-Caribbean route has been a bit brighter this week with a full range of products being offered for shipment. At one end of the spectrum are the vegetable oils, tallow and molasses that have been active, and at the other end are the small clean petroleum cargoes, of which there have been more quoted and fixed over the past week than has been the case for the past month. In the middle, there have been some base oils fixed into Rio Haina, while the small chemical parcels have also been quite busy.

There is not a lot of open space on the U.S. Gulf-to-the east coast of South America route among the scheduled carriers. Contractual volumes are reported to be strong this month and while there have been some spot requirements, most have been for quantities under 10,000 tons, with the exception of a methanol cargo to Brazil, and consequently, owners are reluctant to take the plunge and insert additional tonnage on berth. Several cargoes have been deferred by several weeks in the hope that there may be more space as we go into May. Cargoes such as paraxylene, caustic, glycols, ethanol and some base oils have been noted.


The North Sea and Baltic regions have actually witnessed a number of prompt open positions, which is something that has been fairly rare in the weeks preceding Easter. However, unlike previous years, the market has not come to a complete standstill after the holidays which owners have welcomed. Overall, some rates have nudged downwards, but a lot of fixtures are still being done at the same levels as a month ago.

Southbound cargo volumes remain strong for the rest of April, and owners are quoting bullish freight levels. From Rotterdam to Algeciras 3,000-ton parcels of easy chemicals saw 40/t as the lowest offer. Portugal to Fos, in the south of France route, attracted offers of 45/t and upwards for 3,000 tons of biodiesel. Such numbers are very firm and the charterers will opt to wait, but it provides a flavour of the kind of levels that owners are looking for. Some base oil activity is taking place, but traders prefer to source from the Mediterranean instead if possible.

Northbound is almost identical to that of a few weeks ago. Space is very scarce due to the active Mediterranean market and so freights are strong. Products such as pyrolysis gasoline, mixed xylenes, biodiesel and vegetable oil are common. There has been interest in base oils too, including barrels from the Black Sea, although it is unclear if this has actually developed.

For the inter-Mediterranean route, space has been extremely scarce in the West Mediterranean and it is common to see cargoes wait 10-20 days before actually getting fixed. Rates are strong, and in some cases 20-25 percent higher than 4-6 weeks ago. The first few days after the Easter holidays saw a few more prompt ships in the area but the pace of demand has picked up very recently and these prompt positions have started to melt away. Base oils have been reasonably active, but the pattern of trade has not been consistent. Some days there is movement from the Black Sea within the Mediterranean, as well as a number of enquiries from the west Mediterranean, but then the direction changes and the same cargoes are targeted to deep-sea destinations such as West Africa, India and the Middle East Gulf.

The transatlantic westbound route continues to be fairly busy, chiefly with paraxylene, benzene, pyrolysis gasoline, some mixed xylenes, orthoxylene and sulphuric acid. Numbers are hanging around the $50-52/t level for 5,000-ton parcels. Base oils have been a bit patchy lately, with the main requirements being in-house transfers. Even interest into the Caribbean has been rather indifferent apart from 7,500 tons that was booked from the Baltic to Cuba.

The April space is almost all gone for the Europe-to-Far East route and May is already starting to look busy in terms of contractual nominations. Spot market enquiries are rather thin however, being mainly small parcels of nonene, acetone, oxo-alcohols and butanediol. Freight rates are gently edging upwards because there is not that much competition between owners. Base oils are not in contention right now.

From Europe-to-India/Middle East Gulf base oils are much more of an item, with requirements noted from all loading areas. Rates are pretty firm right now – a typical 5,000 tons requirement to Mumbai would expect to realise mid $80s/t because space is quite tight presently and there is a lot of competition for that space. Cargoes of benzene, toluene, orthoxylene, oxo-alcohols, acrylonitrile and hexane, as well as lots of phosphoric acid and vegetable oil that are being quoted.


In domestic Asia there have been some lengthy holidays in some Asian countries that have disrupted the pattern of trade. For instance, northbound business has recently been well represented by aromatics from Thailand to China and Taiwan, but these shipments were put on hold due to the Songkaran Festival that will last until April 16. Southbound activity has not been great either, and even the flow of base oils from Korea appears to have lessened. Intra-Far East aromatics volumes are down slightly too as China is receiving fewer cargoes. Rates are weak, or have the potential to weaken.

From Asia export the contractual volumes appear to be strong, leaving only the occasional bit of space on ships destined to Europe over the next month or so. Spot market volumes do not appear so wonderful, yet owners report fixing at high rates – 6,000 tons acid on the route China-to-Mediterranean to Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam went for around $115/t for example. Nonetheless, there are quite a few ships fully open in the area and it may not be possible to emulate these levels in May. Contracts to the U.S. are also said to be filling up the ships well. 5,000 tons of base oils from Singapore to Houston are claimed to have gone for $150/t.

The palm oil volumes are showing some signs of improvement on the deep-sea routes out of the Malacca Straits, and rates are fractionally firmer. Trade into India and Pakistan looks healthier too, and also with a touch stronger numbers.

The Middle East Gulf to India region is pretty active on the regional routes between India and the Middle East Gulf, and owners are able to be selective on which cargoes they take. Rates are fairly firm in the area too. Eastbound too has seen owners be pushy on freight levels and a number of cargoes have been pending for several weeks, subject to securing vessel space. Westbound does not appear that busy, but there is a shortage of methanol in the Mediterranean due to plant issues, and this has brought about a number of fixtures recently.

Adrian Brown is a 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 Panos Giannoulis can be reached atfix@ssychems.comor +44 20 7977 7538 and in Singapore Jordi Maymi at +65 6854 7127.

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