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Dearth of small tankers catches operators off guard, warns LR

London: A vast majority of the small tanker fleet of less than 5,000dwt will need to be double-hulled or phased out during the course of 2008 and Asian shipbuilders and repairers could be some of the principal beneficiaries.

Of the total fleet of around 4,100 small tankers in the range 600-4999dwt, around 3,300 are single-hulled units which, under Marpol regulation 13H, will become ineligible to carry certain heavy grades of oil on reaching their construction anniversary during this year, Jonathan Morley of Lloyd's Register told a seminar last week. Such tankers are widely used in the distribution of heavy oils over relatively short coastal voyages as well as the supply of bunkers and the storage and carriage of other heavy oils in port areas.

Tankers of more than 5,000dwt have been prevented from carrying heavy oils since 2005 but experts believe the imminent ban affecting vessels of less than 5,000dwt may have caught many of their operators on the back foot. It could hardly have come at a worse time: most newbuilding yards are full, many repair yards are booked up months in advance; and the unappealing nature of a double-hulling conversion on a small tanker could leave owners hunting around for facilities to convert and/or replace their tonnage.

Moreover, the problem will be exacerbated by the fact that there are very few small tankers currently on order. It is understood that about two thirds of the 127 such vessels on order in 2007, logged by Lloyd's Register Fairplay, have now been delivered, leaving 35 more units to be commissioned this year and just eight more in 2009. A further concern is that 75% of these 127 tankers were in the size range 3,000-5,000dwt. However, there are almost 2,900 small tankers in the size categories from 600-3,000dwt, with virtually no replacement tonnage on order.  [01/02/08]

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