Global oil demand hits the brakes, but tankers proliferate

After an exceptionally positive 2004, Intertanko, the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, is trying to map out the future in the industry and in oil demand. The sector is now turning to 2005 developments, as the rise of global oil demand is registering a slower rate than last year. Intertanko’s 2004 report shows that the Middle East is the only important consumption region where use of oil will grow by the same pace as last year, that is 0.3 million barrels per day (bpd). In total, the rise in international oil demand is calculated at 1 million bpd, adding to 82.4 million bpd in 2004. That was a record year in global demand – beating 1973 – while daily production also rose by 3.4 million barrels. But just as international demand is slowing down, Intertanko estimates that the global tanker fleet will grow by 6 percent, creating new conditions in the market. However, any forecasts on tanker chartering is risky, the group says, since the outlook is still unclear. The report says demand may rise for longer trips – such as from West Africa to India and China – which is enough to balance out losses from other markets and the increased availability of ships. Greek leaders Two Greek names are in the 10 biggest tanker companies in the world: General Maritime, owned by Petros Georgiopoulos, and Anangel Shipping, owned the Angelikousis family. The companies rank eighth and ninth on the list respectively. According to Intertanko data, New York-listed General Maritime controls a 47-ship fleet totaling 5.8 million deadweight tons (dwt), while Anangel Shipping has 26 tankers with a capacity of 5.6 million dwt. In total, the 10 greatest companies control 469 tankers whose size adds up to 79.5 million dwt. This represents 29 percent of the global tanker fleet, which totals 3,127 ships and 270 million dwt. Recent 2005 data show Greece having a dominant position in international ship registers, too. The total capacity of Greek-flagged ships is 28.97 million dwt, putting Greece in second place behind Panama. Another important conclusion from the new Intertanko report is the significant advancement in the safety of maritime trips. Despite the great growth of shipping in the last two years, the number and size of accidents leading to oil spills at sea were considerably reduced. Had the Al Samiddon accident not happened in mid-December, 2004 would have registered as the year with the smallest amount of oil spilled accidentally at sea since 1978, when records began. But Al Samiddon spilled some 8,500 tons of oil in the Suez strait. It is true that shipowners have invested more than $100 billion to purchase modern double-hulled tankers. Based on the rate of global fleet renewal recorded today, it is estimated that at the end of 2006 some 75 percent of all tankers will be double-hulled, securing greater safety in case of a ship crash. The fact that shipyards will be working to their limits at least until 2007 means that the fleet renewal rate has no margins for further acceleration.