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Tanker market retreats during February says OPEC in its latest monthly report




Following a drop the previous month, average dirty tanker spot freight rates declined further in February by 15% to stand at WS77 points. Lower rates were seen in all reported dirty classes in February and are partially attributed to holidays in the East, a well-populated tonnage list and limited activity in several areas. Factors that contributed to the freight rate drop were seen on most major shipping routes, with the only exception being the Caribbean, where rough weather conditions and uncertain itineraries supported freight rates. In general, dirty tankers were lacking volumes in February.

The VLCC class showed the highest drop, compared with Suezmax and Aframax, which declined by 26%, 17% and 6%, respectively. The clean tanker market was mostly quiet in February, falling under general bearish sentiment as spot freight rates weakened on all reported routes. Product trade was limited on both directions from Suez during the holidays, and a quiet market was seen to dampen tonnage demand. Spot fixtures According to preliminary data, global fixtures increased by 14% in February compared with the previous month. OPEC spot fixtures were up by 11.5%, or 1.21 mb/d, to average 11.78 mb/d. Fixtures on the Middle East-to-East route averaged 6.24 mb/d in February, increasing by 1.10 mb/d from one month ago, while those on the Middle East-to-West route averaged 2.13 mb/d. Outside of the Middle East, fixtures averaged 3.42 mb/d, showing an increase of 0.24 mb/d compared with the same period a year earlier. Global fixtures dropped by 9% in February.

Sailings and arrivals

Preliminary data shows OPEC sailings increasing in February by 1.2%, averaging 24.16 mb/d, still 0.33 mb/d below the same month a year ago. Middle East sailings were up from the previous month by 1.6%, but less than 3% from a year before. February arrivals were mixed, registering declines in North American and far eastern ports of 4.5% and 3.7%, respectively, from one month ago, while arrivals to Europe and West Asia increased by 7.7% and 7.1%, respectively, to average 12.18 mb/d and 4.79 mb/d.

Spot freight rates

Despite a relatively active start for VLCC tankers at the beginning of the month, freight rates dropped on average from the previous month as activity thinned, partially on the back of Chinese New Year in the East and market events in the West. Activity picked up somewhat following the holidays, however the amount was incapable of supporting freight rates, or only managed to prevent further drops. VLCC requirements were limited on most major routes. The tonnage market in the Middle East showed volatility, with drops on average to both eastern and western destinations. Despite uncertainty and berthing delays in the East, freight rates registered for tankers operating on the Middle East-to-East route went down by 24% from a month before to stand at WS60 points. Middle East-to-West routes declined by 39% from a month before to stand at WS35 points, influenced by the downward pressure in the region. Similarly, West Africa-to-East routes dropped by 19% from a month earlier to average WS67, also influenced by a lack of firm inquiries and low activity for transatlantic shipments. Generally, VLCC spot freight rates experienced the highest drop among tankers in the dirty tanker market. Average spot freight rates for VLCCs declined by 26% in February from the previous month to average WS54 points.

Suezmax spot freight rates dropped to a lesser extent than those of VLCCs in February. Rates for tankers operating on the West Africa-to-US route decreased by 15% to average WS78 points. Rates on the Northwest Europe (NWE)-to-US route fell by 20% in February from the previous month to average WS67 points. A soft trend was dominant for Suezmax in February, with lower rates and limited demand in many chartering markets such as the Black Sea, the North Sea and the Mediterranean. In West Africa, Suezmax requirements varied during the course of the month. However, rates edged down on most days, as market activity did not pick up significantly enough to support them, with the exception of some deals done at higher levels for deferred loadings, which came on the back of port delays in Spain.

The Aframax sector saw the least decline in freight rates compared with other tankers in the dirty segment. Freight rates on most reported routes showed a drop from the previous month, with the exception being Caribbean loadings. Still, Aframax owners ended the month of February with low earnings, not fully benefiting from the ice season. In the Mediterranean, the Aframax market suffered from a lack of firm orders and an increase in tonnage buildup, which eventually led to a drop in freight rates to levels not seen for some time. Freight rates for Aframax operating on both Mediterranean-toMediterranean and Mediterranean-to-Northwest Europe routes showed a decline of 11% and 10%, respectively. In the Caribbean, Aframax freight rates increased from the previous month, the only positive monthly performance for all reported dirty tankers. Higher rates in February came on the back of replacement fixtures and increased delays as a result of bad weather conditions in the US Gulf region. Aframax rates on Caribbean-to-US routes reported an increase of 8% to stand at WS132 points. On the other hand, rates dropped in the North Sea and the Baltics, mainly due to a lack of activity, combined with tonnage surplus.

Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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