As more efficient ships get deployed and cheap fuel from Russia becomes available, bunker surcharges should be proportionately going down, but this does not appear to be the case for most carriers, says Drewry.
The maritime research firm pointed to the arrival of Maersk Line’s first 18,000-TEU vessels and the availability of cheap fuel in Russian ports again as important developments that should influence bunker surcharges.
These mega ships burn about 35 percent less fuel per TEU carried on a round-voyage basis between Asia and Northern Europe than 13,100-TEU vessels, and 13,100-TEU vessels burn some 20 percent less than 9,000-TEU vessels. In turn, 9,000-TEU vessels burn about 23 percent less than 6,000-TEU vessels.
The deployment of larger container ships has been gathering momentum, said Drewry. In the third quarter of 2011, vessels deployed on the Asia-Northern Europe trade lane averaged just 9,158 TEUs in size, which increased by 8 percent in the next 12 months, up to 9,881 TEUs, and by another 9 percent in the next 12 months, up to over 10,800 TEUs.
The change in the trans-Pacific was slightly less, being 7 percent between the third quarter of 2011 and the same quarter in 2012, up to 6,264 TEUs, but only 1 percent between the third quarter of 2012 and the third quarter of 2013, up to 6,320 TEUs.
This means that bunker surcharge levels should have been falling faster than fuel prices since the third quarter of 2012, which has not happened, except in the case of Maersk Line, which made a dramatic revision to its standard bunker adjustment factor (SBF) formula in June this year.
Cheap Russian bunker oil since the beginning of the year is a further benefit which should have been dragging down fuel surcharge levels, added Drewry.
Citing Cockett Marine Oil, it said prices this year in Russian Pacific coast ports, such as Vladivostok, Vostochny, and Nakhodka, have become cheaper than normal bunkering ports like Rotterdam and Singapore, although some of this is offset by the cost of getting there.
The problem for shippers is that Russian ports are not normally used to calculate the fuel prices around which most carriers’ bunker surcharges are based, noted Drewry.
For example, the Transpacific Stabilization Agreement’s recommended BAF for the US West Coast is based on prices in Hong Kong and Los Angeles. Its recommended BAF for the US East Coast is based on prices in Hong Kong and New York.
Moreover, the low bunker cost at Russian ports may not hold for long, since the country has been slowly increasing fuel exports since June.
Still, said Drewry, that ocean carriers’ freight rates have been loss-making for much of this year “should not cloud the issue of inflated BAFs, as this is due to other factors, even though it is easy to see why ocean carriers may see the picture differently.”
Photo: M Haggstrom