Supramax rates in Indian Ocean at record high as vessel shortage tightens

SUPRAMAX-DRY-BULK-GEARED-VESSEL

The lack of ships opening for fresh employment around India’s coast saw the Supramax freight rate for a 50,000 mt (plus/minus 10%) iron ore cargo from Paradip to China assessed at $16.20/mt Jan. 26, the highest since S&P Global Platts launched the assessment in mid-2014.

The time charter equivalent or TCE rate for a Supramax vessel opening on west coast India for a trip with limestone via the Persian Gulf to east coast India reached $14,760/d Jan. 26, the highest since July 2020.

An Ultramax vessel opening in Mongla, Bangladesh, was also heard fixing at $23,500/d for a trip via east coast India to China carrying iron ore; Ultramax vessels were fixing around $16,000/d for similar delivery points and destinations the week before.

Market sources said the increase in rates was the result of fewer vessels coming into India with coal. A ship broker source said an increase in rates out of east coast South America and vessel shortages in the Atlantic offered further support.

A total of 16 Supramaxes sailed out of east coast India with iron ore in the week ended Jan. 23, compared to only 9 the week before, a ship agency source said.

“East coast India is on fire and Richards Bay rates are improving; soon they will start pulling ships from Southeast Asia. I’m positive going forward,” a shipowner source said.

Shippers would not be concerned about the $3-$4/mt freight hike with CFR China iron ore prices at a high $165/dmt, he added.

“I hear that there might be [Indian] export taxes on iron ore, so charterers wanted to move earlier, hence the [high] levels they paid,” a ship-operator source said, adding: “Tonnage count is lower in the Indian Ocean and there is a lot of commodity movement.”

CHINA DEMAND

As Chinese demand increased and coal prices continued to trend higher, Indian demand waned, with few shipments from Indonesia to India seen in the past month. The lack of resupply of vessels from the Pacific has exacerbated the demand-supply imbalance of vessels in the Indian Ocean.

“Right now coal and freight markets [from Indonesia to India] are both hot, so, we prefer to buy from existing port stockpiles,” a coal trading source in India said.

The coldest December since 2012 in Northeast Asia led to a surge in electricity demand. China’s December electricity consumption hit a record high at over 800 TWh, according to Platts Analytics.

However, temperatures have moderated over the past week, leading to a respite in Chinese coal trading activity.

Chinese coastal rates have been on downtrend since Jan. 19, with freight for a 50,000 dwt (plus/minus 10%) coal cargo from Qinhuangdao to Guangzhou assessed at $5.35/mt Jan. 26, down from $10.30/mt on Jan. 19.

“Coastal cargoes are scarce and coastal bulk freight prices have dropped significantly,” a ship-operator source said. “In the past two days, the temperature has risen across China and the daily consumption by power plants has fallen. The coal price declined and the market expects it to weaken [further]; mainly wait-and-see.”

A second ship-operator source said: “Traders say coal prices are too high — the temperature seems warmer now and they are not in a rush to buy more expensive coal.” However, coal imports from Indonesia to China remained strong, he added.

A total of 10 coal cargoes were heard to have been fixed on Supramax stems from Indonesia to China over Dec. 18-22, down from 16 cargoes over Dec. 11-15.

India has not seen a significant uptick in coal procurement activity, which meant vessel scarcity in the Indian Ocean was likely to continue, market sources said.

Source: Platts

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