Tanker rates boom as refiners turn to floating storage

Demand for “clean” tankers is soaring as refiners scramble to find places to stash unwanted jet fuel, diesel and petrol.

Until now, most of the attention in the shipping market has been focused on surging rates for very large crude carriers (VLCCs) capable of carrying more than 2m barrels of unrefined crude oil, as the collapse in demand stemming from the coronavirus outbreak leaves the world awash in crude.

Now the focus has switched to long-range product tankers, which are used to transport finished petroleum products and have become more expensive to charter than VLCCs.

The cost of hiring a Long Range 2 tanker, capable of carrying about 800,000 barrels of oil products, has more than doubled over the past week to a record $173,000 per day on Monday, according to Clarksons Platou Securities. Day rates for LR1 tankers, which can carry between 345,000 barrels and 615,000 barrels of petrol, have also doubled, hitting almost $112,000.

VLCC rates, in contrast, have slipped slightly to about $167,000 per day, shortly before the huge production cuts agreed by Opec and Russia come into force at the start of May.

“The VLCC market continues to be strong . . . but we are starting to see demand flow over into the product market,” said Lois Zabrocky, chief executive of New York-listed International Seaways. “Refiners are facing challenges recalibrating supply and demand.”

Coronavirus causes huge oversupply in refined products

The world typically consumes about 100m barrels of oil and finished products a day and produces roughly the same amount. However, with much of the industrialised world in lockdown, demand has plummeted by as much as 30m b/d, creating a huge supply glut.

As a result refiners face a stark choice: to find places to store unwanted product or cut output (or even close). With onshore storage facilities already full or leased, many refiners are turning to floating storage.

According to Vortexa, an oil analytics firm, the volume of key oil products held in floating storage around the world hit 72m barrels on Sunday, up from 33.7m a month ago.

“The massive drop in gasoline, diesel and jet demand with the spread of Covid-19 has led to a huge global products oversupply,” said Jay Maroo, senior analyst at Vortexa.

“Refiners are trimming production, but supply is building in the meantime with minimal onshore storage now available. We’re seeing traders, refiners and majors all clamouring to secure tankers to deploy as floating storage as a result,” he said.

Traders said that while the main driver for rocketing “clean” tankers rates is the mismatch between supply and demand and the lack of onshore storage, other factors are also at play.

Coronavirus lockdowns are making it difficult to discharge cargoes at many ports — particularly in the Americas — without delays. That has meant that some charterers are rerouting vessels to countries where they can be unloaded.

“This is causing even tighter supply as ships are being used to travel longer distances,” said Frode Mørkedal, analyst at Clarksons. “While current record rates are clearly unsustainably high, the existing supply crunch appears likely to keep charter rates very well supported for the coming months.”

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