SSY Base Oil Shipping Report


Despite strong performance on most U.S. routes, owners have not been as bullish as could be expected. Meanwhile, public holidays in Asia and Europe have kept the lid on new opportunities.

U.S. Gulf

The lack of open space to the Far East has again prevented much business from being concluded. Moreover, it would seem that June contractual nominations are already strong, suggesting that there could be a further month of tightness still to come. And all the while, cargo possibilities sit there biding time and dropping back on loading dates.

There have been some outstanding fixtures, such as 17,000 tons of acrylonitrile fixed as a single cargo. There has never been an acrylonitrile cargo as large as this before, and to demonstrate that it is not totally unique, there is a further 12,000-13,000 tons of acrylonitrile still looking for space. Several cargoes of base oils have evidently been booked to China and several more are under consideration.

Transatlantic eastbound is one of those routes drawing questions. There is still a substantial amount of potential material to ship, but charterers are unwilling to pay the going levels, and in turn owners are feeling a little more nervous asking for rates much larger than those in the low $60s per metric ton, even if there is still a substantial amount of material drawing enquires. Styrene has been quieter, but there are still requirements for cyclohexane, glycol, caustic, phenol, cumene, ethylene dichloride and vegetable oil.

Most of the space to India and the Middle East Gulf has been covered by contractual demand, but from time to time there have been spot enquiries for ethanol, ethylene dichloride and base oil. A cargo of 9,000 tons of base oil was reputedly fixed from Port Arthur, Texas, to Mumbai, India, in the high $70s/t.

Routes to the Caribbean market are still active, although due to the shortage of available space, it has been another week of limited fixture information. Mexico is still the centre of attention for caustic traders and producers, and is seeing some ethanol fixed. There have been plenty of small parcels of aromatics, solvents and methanol as well as small lots of clean petroleum and vegetable oil.

Spot activity to the east coast of South America has been rather sporadic, with some interest displayed to ship paraxylene, caustic, acetone, avgas and smallish cargoes of clean petroleum. Base oils have not been seen this week.


Inthe North Sea and Baltic Sea, the gasoline-blending and oxygenates sector has been fairly busy, similar to last week, but other commodities – including base oils -have been sluggish and the list of prompt open tonnage has grown just that much bigger. Many cargoes are attracting multiple offers, which ensures that rates remain highly competitive.

Southbound trade is still rather quiet. There have been some larger lots of MTBE into both the East Mediterranean and West Mediterranean; a couple of caustic parcels into Spain and Portugal; the usual FAME into the West Mediterranean; some sulphuric acid into Morocco; and a few small parcels of aromatics. A couple of larger base oil requirements have recently popped up but are chiefly for term customers. Rates remain soft.

Northbound ships are generally filling up on the northbound run, but there is not anything really fancy going on, with most requirements tending to be fairly regular. Rates are generally competitive, especially from the East Mediterranean, where 5,000 tons of easy chemicals were fixed to Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam at $40/t, for example.

Inter-Mediterranean business remains slow, and more prompt positions have been noted. In the East Mediterranean, a bit more vegetable oil has been observed, the rates for which have been back to normal levels. A few more chemicals parcels have been noted moving within the Black Sea too. In the West Mediterranean, the surplus of tonnage has caused rates to drop by around 1/t. Base oil movements have been fairly steady, with material moving into Egypt, Italy and Turkey.

There has not been much excitement on the westbound transatlantic service, and indeed, at least one prompt ship has ballasted to the U.S. hoping to find better employment. Several paraxylene parcels have been noted, but the traders all want to keep their options open as to where to sell – asking for Europe, India and Far East options in case they cannot place the material in the U.S. A parcel of pyrolysis gasoline was noted from Rijeka, Croatia, to the U.S. Gulf, but it too could end up in Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam instead.

On Far East-bound routes, it has been another abject week for owners with ships on berth in May, with virtually nothing being quoted. Rates are clinging to the $80/t region for 5,000-ton parcels from Rotterdam to China, but it is possible to fix 2,000-3,000-ton parcels at this level too. Bigger parcels of 10,000 tons do not attract much of a discount since a cargo of that size would probably entail bringing an outsider on berth, which would then be at a disadvantage in having to fill the remaining space.

There is not a great deal of scheduled space remaining on the route to India and the Middle East Gulf. These carriers have filled out with some larger slugs of ethylene dichloride to India and Pakistan or else have taken some of the small parcels of aromatics that have been quoted. More base oils have been booked from the Black Sea into the United Arab Emirates, while phosphoric acid from North Africa has siphoned off yet more potential carriers. Vegetable oil is also active from the Black Sea with a steady procession of ships being fixed.


Japan is celebrating Golden Week, and other countries such as Singapore, China and Korea have public holidays around this time as well, making it hard to develop new business. Consequently, the prevailing view this week has been one of quietness and soft freight levels, which seemingly applies to all the domestic Asia routes. Bits and pieces of base oils have been detected but supplies are reputed to be tighter and less material is being shipped.

Several export benzene cargoes were covered to the U.S. over the past week, with rates in the region of $40/t from Korea and in the high $40s/t from Japan for 6,000-ton parcels. No new base oil fixtures were discovered, but these kinds of levels should be applicable for base oils as well.

Space is available to Europe. Again, there was no discernible base oil activity this week, but there have been cargoes of vinyl acetate monomer, phosphoric acid, biodiesel and cyclohexane. Palm oil markets are having a quiet spell to Europe and the Americas, but things are a little better into India.

Regional business in India and the Middle East Gulf has been slow, putting rates under yet more pressure. Base oils continue to move to India and Pakistan from Iran, and there have been some Red Sea cargoes too.

Eastbound is reported to be flat, with several prompt positions around. Enquiries of Iranian chemicals seem to be more prolific, with several cargoes of 30,000-40,000 tons each being quoted to China.

Westbound has also seen some Iranian quotations, but European owners are still unable to secure insurance cover to take advantage of them.

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 12 0750 7507. In the Bergen office in Norway, SSYs Ian Roberts can be reached at or +47 55 54 05 00 and in Singapore Jordi Maymi at +65 6854 7127.

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