The news that a trial VLCC loading occurred in Louisiana was a rather significant development in the global tanker market. According to the latest weekly report from shipbroker Gibson, the successful loading of a VLCC at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) was a “culmination of the port’s efforts to modify one of its pipelines to accommodate the bidirectional flow of crude through the terminal. It remains to be seen how much will be exported from the port on a regular basis, taking into account its restricted pipeline connectivity to the key shale plays. However, undoubtedly there is no shortage of export demand. The growth in US crude exports was spectacular last year, with total volumes up by around 1 million b/d over the course of the year.
The biggest increases were seen in long haul trade to Asia, stimulated by restricted crude flows out of the Middle East and the need for diversification by energy hungry Asia Pacific countries. Both Suezmaxes and VLCCs benefited from these incremental long haul barrels, although to date loading a VLCC required an expensive reverse lighting exercise. Infrastructure improvements at LOOP would certainly improve freight economics for VLCCs. In addition, once the dredging project at the port of Corpus Christi is completed, the terminal is also expected to be able to load partladen VLCCs”.
According to Gibson “long haul trade from Latin/South America to Asia also remains strong, despite the economic turmoil in Venezuela, which is affecting the country’s crude exports. Venezuela’s short haul crude trade to US has been in decline for quite some time, while long-haul volumes to the East have started to slip of late. Nonetheless, this has been more than offset by growing shipments of Brazilian crude both from Brazil and Uruguay.According to AIS movements, last year the volume of crude exported on VLCCs from these two countries reached 25 million tonnes, up by over 25% versus 2016”.
The shipbroker added that “robust crude trade from Latin/South America, coupled with the increasing number of long haul shipments out of the US Gulf, is translating into gradual increases in demand for VLCCs. Yet, the availability of naturally positioned tonnage in the region is at best static, if not at risk of decline, as ongoing increases in US crude production threaten to lower the country’s crude import requirements, including those barrels shipped from the Middle East. For VLCCs, discharging in Europe, loading in the Caribbean or the US Gulf is already a natural step forward. Furthermore, a new trend has emerged since last year, with VLCCs occasionally ballasting from the East to load off the South American coast or in the Caribbean”.
Gibson noted that “keeping all things equal, strong prospects for continued growth in US crude exports and VLCC infrastructure developments suggest further increases in chartering demand and with it, dwindling availability of naturally positioned VLCCs in the region. This implies a greater need for ballasters; however, the majority of the US business is done on a speculative basis. Quite possibly these market dynamics will pull more prompt tonnage towards the US Gulf, creating additional opportunities for Eastern ballasters for Caribs/South American term loadings. Of course, owners will only welcome more inefficiencies in trade, yet a watchful eye has to be kept on developments out of Venezuela, as a further decline in long haul crude trade out of the country cannot be ruled out”, the shipbroker concluded.
Meanwhile, in the crude tanker this week, in the Middle East, Gibson said that “Chinese holidays, and I.P. Week in London, handicapped VLCC Owners’ hopes from the very start of the week and although volumes were not as thin as they could have been, ongoing heavy availability continued to weigh heavily, and rates remained stuck fast within their recent lowly range. Older/more challenged units at down to ws 30 to the East with modern units into the high ws 30’s and runs to the West as low as ws 15.5 via the Suez. Perhaps busier next week, but supply will remain a negative drag anchor. Suezmaxes found very little to do and competed extra hard for any stray cargo to the West to force rates there into the very low ws 20’s with no better than ws 57.5 available to the East. Some have ballasted to the Atlantic, but even that exodus has barely dented supply. Aframaxes remained weak, and rates edged off further from their recent lows. 80,000mt by ws 82.5 to Singapore now, and similarly poor values likely over the near term, at least”, the shipbroker concluded.