Seatrade Maritime is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Slow steaming hits tanker fleet productivity

Slow steaming hits tanker fleet productivity
A recent analysis by Clarkson Research suggests major declines in shipping fleet productivity, as measured by tonnes carried per deadweight, since the financial crash.

For tankers, including product carriers, productivity dropped 33% 8.3 tonnes per dwt in 2004 to 5.6 last year. Capacity had increased 66% in the period but trade by only 12%, although development of longer-haul Asian trades in recent years may have helped "real" vessel demand.

Slow steaming accounts for most of the drop in productivity. With bunker prices 50% lower than last summer any pressure to increase speeds again could unlock a lot of surplus capacity.

Such considerations have not affected owners in the VLCC market which saw a mini-wave of contracting in January presumably on the back of continuing high earnings in the spot market.

London broker EA Gibson says 12 VLCCs were ordered last month taking the fleet on order past the symbolic 100 mark, although others quote lower figures.

There has been a strong correlation in recent years between spot earnings and levels of contracting - most recently seen in the 26 vessels ordered in November and December 2013 when average spot earnings topped $50,000 a day, albeit briefly.

Whether the optimism underlying this ordering is justified remains to be seen. A low oil price environment will discourage investment in “difficult” oil which may see US oil imports rising again, but that would mean less Atlantic barrels for long-haul shipment to Asia. Also new refinery capacity in the Middle East means more oil will be processed locally leaving less for export. In the longer term incremental increases in global oil demand may come to the rescue.

More VLCCs will be ordered, says Gibson but if, as expected, rates soften later in the year then contracting should also decline if the relationship holds.