Supramax demand strong on Indonesia-India coal route

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Demand remains strong for Supramaxes to ship coal on Indonesia-India routes — despite a 40% spike in freight rates — due to logistical and economic considerations that blunt the attractiveness of fixing considerably cheaper rates on larger Panamax and Capesize ships, shipping market sources said Feb. 9-10.

The freight to move a 55,000 mt (plus/minus 10%) coal cargo on a Supramax ship from South Kalimantan in Indonesia to Paradip on east coast India was assessed at $21.30 Feb. 9, up $5.95/mt or almost 40% since Jan. 31.

The Panamax freight rate to move a larger 75,000 mt (plus/minus 10%) coal cargo on the same route was assessed Feb.9 at $12/mt — $9.30/mt lower than Supramax freight.

However, charterers were continuing to opt for geared Supramax over larger gearless bulkers and shrugging off the recent increase in coal prices, sources said.

Most of the Indonesian coal being exported currently was contracted at a lower price earlier but could not be lifted in January due to Indonesia’s export ban, a ship-chartering source with a commodity trader in India said.

“Shippers are not giving more volumes now,” the source said, adding that any additional volumes would be at the current, higher spot prices.

A shortage of floating cranes in Indonesia’s Kalimantan province was also fueling the preference for Supramaxes, a market source said.

Gearless ships are loaded at anchorages with the assistance of trans-shippers and floating cranes. The lack of floating cranes in Kalimantan prompted charterers to move cargoes on geared Supramax and Ultramax vessels, which have the capacity to self-load and discharge.

The lack of floating cranes and draft was also an issue at many discharging ports on India’s west coast, sources said.

“There are a restricted number of ports for [gearless] ships that can discharge at west coast India,” the ship-chartering source said.

A ship-operator source in India said that most spot coal cargoes from Indonesia were discharged in west coast India and the receivers were mostly stock-and-sale traders.

Reversal looms

However, the preference for Supramax ships over gearless tonnage like Panamaxes was likely to reverse once the backlog of coal exports that built up in January during Indonesia’s month-long export ban was cleared, market sources said, although the time frame for this was unclear.

“This surge in rates does not seem sustainable,” a second ship-operator said.

“But at the same time, it is difficult to find a ‘bear’ in the market with freight derivative rates staying very firm and owners quoting close to $30,000/d to fix their vessels out on period [business],” the source added.

Source: Platts