SSY Base Oil Shipping Report


The lack of ships in the U.S. still dictates how much or how little business actually gets done. Europe has been steady while Asias seen good demand for prompt space.

U.S. Gulf

There is almost no remaining March space on scheduled tonnage out of the U.S. Gulf. On routes to the Far East, one of the last ships was able to obtain $105 per metric ton for 5,000 tons of aromatics from the Mississippi River to the Yangtze River, illustrating the kind of premium that prompt space can command. Traders are already starting to look at what space is available in April, suggesting that the carpet of cargoes will steamroll on for another month.

Methanol is especially active with ships now being encouraged to ballast over from Europe to take 35,000-ton cargoes to China. Rates were in the mid $60s/t but recent business would suggest owners are targeting mid $70s/t for March loading.

In addition to methanol, there are all the other grades of chemicals looking to move, as per last weeks report. The base oils from Paulsboro seem to have bitten the dust, however, with the requirement sourced from Europe instead.

Eastbound transatlantic demand is still strong, but traders are not pressing hard, fearful that rates will continue to climb. There is talk that 7,000 tons of cumene from Houston to Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam managed to get fixed in the $70s/t, which is quite a premium above usual levels. However, there is so little space available – even among the outsiders – that rates are likely to remain firm.

There are ships known to be ballasting over from Europe to take cargoes such as methanol to Brazil and the Great Lakes, simply because they can justify it economically. Some prompt cargoes of base oil are on the market, but the suspicion is that a ship is running late and that alternative space is being sought.

Scheduled space to India and the Middle East Gulf is in limited supply, and will depend on how much material is nominated under contractual agreements. It does not look as though there will be much. Whilst there are only some small parcels of base oil looking for space, the bulk of demand is comprised of ethylene dichloride, ethanol, aromatics and styrene. Rates are a touch firmer, at around $80/t-$84/t for 5,000-ton parcels to India.

For shipments to the Caribbean , there are numerous parcels of chemicals jockeying for cover in March. Base oils have faded a little, maybe in light of the higher freight levels being talked. Products seen include sulphuric acid, aromatics, caustic, methanol, ethanol, linear alkyl benzene and vegetable oil.

There has been renewed interest in shipping ethanol down to Brazil, but given the lack of space in the U.S. Gulf, traders are now experimenting with the cost of factoring in the extra cost of ballasting in vessels from places like West Africa. Caustic demand remains robust in this direction, and there are some substantial paraxylene requirements in the market. Base oils are being spoken about, but only in smaller volumes.


In North Sea and Baltic trade, it has been another active week on the spot market. Several further base oil cargoes were booked from the Baltic this week and there have been some more movements of base oil in and around the United Kingdom and the Continent.

The other grades that are especially noteworthy are those products linked to gasoline blending, such as ethanol, biodiesel, MTBE, pyrolysis gasoline and reformate. Aromatics, too, have been rather busy within this region, and rates are felt to be a little firmer than before.

Southbound demand has been reasonable into the Mediterranean, but nothing particularly intense. Not every ship has been fixed far into the future, and those that end up being prompt have ended up being more competitive. A FAME cargo of 12,000 tons from Rotterdam to Huelva, Spain, and Livorno, Italy, was reportedly booked for $265,000, which represents a reduction on usual levels. Some base oils have been spoken about, although they seem to be mostly term supply agreements.

Northbound demand has been pretty steady up from the Mediterranean, while the supply of tonnage is balanced, thereby keeping rates stable. Some base oils are moving, but mostly for in-house business. Otherwise, there is toluene, FAME, caustic, wax, pyrolysis gasoline benzene, reformate, MTBE and ethanol.

Inter-Mediterranean demand throughout the Mediterranean has been fairly strong this week. In the West Mediterranean, ships rarely remain open for long, such is the demand for products like biodiesel, caustic, solvents and aromatics, while in the East Mediterranean there has been better demand for aromatics, acids, molasses and vegetable oil. Base oil has also been quite active, moving into Turkey and Egypt.

Aside from paraxylene, transatlantic demand on the westbound route has been rather slow. Rates have been a little weaker too – 3,000 tons of acetone from Antwerp, Belgium, to Mobile, Alabama, U.S., fetched low $50s/t, while 6,000 tons paraxylene from Rotterdam to the U.S. Atlantic Coast made mid $30s/t.

Base oils have not been active, although it is claimed that traders are looking at the next shipment to Punta Cardon, Venezuela, out of the Mediterranean.

Things have improved out to Asia with better demand, particularly for products such as methanol, ethylene dichloride and aromatics. There has been a bit of half-hearted interest in styrene too. In terms of base oils, some spot material was fixed from the Baltic to China and there are some routine shipments for producers.

Rates are stable on scheduled carriers, typically low $80s/t for 5,000-ton parcels from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to Korea, but there is not so much the first half of March space, aside from a couple of outsiders and they may end up charging slightly higher levels.

There is still a lot of interest in sending parcels of chemicals to India and the Middle East Gulf. There are some larger lots, such as ethylene dichloride, phosphoric acid and vegetable oil, but there are plenty of smaller parcels of solvent naphtha C9, solvent naphtha, cyclohexanone, styrene, phenol, hexane, acetic acid, toluene and acrylonitrile. Small lots of base oils are being pushed by traders who seem undeterred by rates in excess of $100/t.


The past week or so has thrown up a large number of domestic Asia requirements, some of which may well be competing business and therefore not all the orders may end up being covered. There has certainly been a lot of paraxylene quoted into China, along with some benzene, mixed xylenes, pyrolysis gasoline, MTBE, methanol and toluene.

The majority of quotations have been from Korea for very prompt loading, but there have also been quite a few that have been looking to move material northbound from Southeast Asia.

The peak of the market saw 10,000 tons of aromatics fix from Korea to the Yangtze at $22/t for prompt shipment, but going further into March brings those levels down to more normal figures – 4,000 tons from Korea to the Yangtze saw $24/t, for example. Base oils have continue to see a reasonable level of demand, whether southbound or northbound.

In export markets, there have been a few sporadic attempts to look at benzene from Korea to the U.S., but there is not much that seems to be workable right now. There is part-cargo space on scheduled carriers, for which rates seem to be at unchanged levels.

Asia-to-Europe trade is divided into the parcels market, which is strong and sees quite firm numbers, or else there are larger lots that seem to attract very competitive numbers. Chemicals in the amount of 1,500 tons from Korea to Turkey, for instance, saw $145/t, and 1,400 tons chemicals from Singapore to Houston realized $158/t, for example – whereas 10,000 tons of base oils from Singapore to Rotterdam were reported fixed in the mid $60s/t. There are a few more base oil requirements around to Europe too.

Regional trades in India and the Middle East Gulf are full of small parcels of up to 5,000 tons in size, including anything from styrene through to aromatics, acids, chlorinated products and methanol. Various base oil parcels are being discussed, with several shipments from Iran to India and the Middle East Gulf, too. Rates are stable.

Paraxylene is one of the major products moving eastwards, and something like 40,000-60,000 tons was booked over the past week from India and the Middle East Gulf. There is something like 70,000 tons of other commodities being studied, including orthoxylene, methanol, MTBE, styrene, ethylene dichloride, paraffins, glycols, benzene, ethanol, vinyl acetate monomer and pyrolysis gasoline. However, space is plentiful and there ought to be double that volume of demand for it to be all comfortably filled. Rates are therefore still pretty soft.

For westbound trade, the general picture remains roughly unchanged. Products such as benzene and glycols have been fixed from the Red Sea, while cyclohexane, benzene, methanol and MTBE has been spotted from India and the Middle East Gulf. With no real change in heart from the P&I Clubs, there is as yet no real push to bring Iranian material into mainstream European destinations.

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 London office SSYs Ian Roberts can be reached atfix@ssychems.comor +44 20 7977 7560 and in Singapore Jordi Maymi at +65 6854 7127.

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