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VLCC rates on key Asian routes to hold steady

[SINGAPORE] Rates for very large crude carriers (VLCCs) on key Asian routes could hold steady around current levels next week as owners resist charterers' attempts to push rates lower, despite an overhang of available tonnage, brokers said. "Owners are standing together," one Singapore-based VLCC broker said on Friday.

Average VLCC earnings for last year were quite low, around US$27,300 per day, according to British ship broker Clarkson, compared with the spike in December when Middle East rates hit 81 on the Worldscale measure, or equivalent to US$97,500 per day, the broker said.

Daily average earnings now are about US$45,000, Mr Clarkson said. "Owners want to make sure earnings don't drop," the broker added.

Around 86 cargoes from the Middle East had been fixed for loading for the first 20 days of March, said Kevin Sy, a freight derivatives broker at Singapore's Marex Spectron. That left about 40 cargoes to be contracted for the rest of March, he said.

The Singapore VLCC broker estimated there was an overhang of 20 supertankers for these cargoes. "There are definitely more ships than cargo," both he and Mr Sy said.

In a weekly note on Wednesday, Norwegian ship broker Fearnley said, "Rates have stabilised. Owners (are) awaiting for things to really take off and have taken a slightly more wait-and-see attitude. "Charterers are seeking out owners with ships in order to cover at last done levels." VLCC chartering activity from West Africa remained quiet, the Singapore broker said.

VLCC rates for the benchmark route from the Middle East to Japan were around W52 on Thursday, against W53 a week earlier.

Rates for West Africa to China were at W53.50 on Thursday, compared with W55 last Thursday.

In other trades, rates for 80,000-tonne Aframax tankers from Southeast Asia to East Coast Australia dropped to W100 on Thursday, down from W101 a week earlier.

Clean tanker rates from Singapore to Japan climbed to W119 on Thursday, up from W117 last week, as cargo volumes continued to outpace vessel supply. "Things are getting busier," a Singapore-based clean tanker broker said on Friday, and forecast rates would climb higher next week.