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Malacca Straits transits hit all time high in 2013, pass 2008 peak

Malacca Straits transits hit all time high in 2013, pass 2008 peak
The key waterway linking Asian and European trade, the Malacca Straits, is a barometer for the health of world trade. Traffic volumes in the Straits peaked in 2008, falling back sharply in 2009 as the global financial crisis took its toll on trade, however, last year saw transits of the waterway reach an all time high surpassing the 2008 peak.

According to data from the Marine Department of Malaysia’s STRAITREP reporting system, compiled by the Nippon Maritime Center (NMC) in Singapore, there were 77,973 transits of the Malacca Strait last year by vessels of 300 gt or more, passing the previous high of 76,381 in 2008.

Traffic volumes in the Straits grew 22% during in the so-called super-cycle that shipping experienced from 2005 – 2008, with the number of transits growing from 62,621 in 2005 to 76,381 in 2008. However, 2009 the number of transits fell to 71,359 a year when global trade fell 12% compared to 2008. Since 2009 the number of transits of the Malacca Straits has steadily increased with the exception of a slight dip in 2011.

“The declining trend due to the 2008 financial crisis mainly affected container ships and car carriers, however VLCC traffic continued to show a strong 20% growth in the last five years. Bulk carrier traffic also showed strong growth of 23%, and tankers showed 15% growth in the last five years,” the report by NMC noted.

The increased traffic volumes on the key waterway is good news in terms of the balance of demand and supply in shipping although does present increasing challenges in terms of safety of navigation, particularly in the large tanker segment, where the deepwater route is little more than 1 km wide at its narrowest point. The alternative route to Malacca Straits for tankers from the Middle East would be the Lombok Straits which adds roughly 1,000 miles and three days additional steaming time, not accounting for slow steaming.

The number of VLCCs transits the straits hit 4,825 last year, an average of 13.2 transits a day, with the growth in Chinese crude oil imports from the Middle East seen as a major driver. Unlike many other vessel types transits for VLCCs grew even during 2009.

“China has been steadily building up its crude oil refining capacity in the last five years and is forecast to handle 12m barrels per day or equivalent of six VLCCs by year 2015. The Middle East still supplies more than half of China’s oil imports,” the report said.

Container ship transit numbers are still lower than the peak of 26,359 in 2008, and last year stood at 24,658. However, containerships have witnessed significant size growth in that time with the emergence of the ultra-large boxships of 13,000 teu and greater, and such tonnage is deployed solely on the Asia – Europe trade.