ECONOMY

Shipowners find the right chemistry in their cargo

Greek shipowners have recently begun investing in ships carrying chemical products and oil derivatives, broadening the variety of products they carry. They have China to thank for that expansion, as that country is the main reason oceangoing shipping is blooming in all product niches. For decades, Greek companies used to invest in tankers for the transport of crude oil and, to a lesser extent, in bulkers and container ships. Needs have now grown and Greek shipowners are rushing to specialize in chemical products’ shipping, as this market is one of the most rapidly expanding. The need to specialize is confirmed by a recent survey on chemical products’ shipping by DVB bank. According to the shipping publication TradeWinds, the survey found that demand for such ships will remain at high levels in the near future, although orders outstanding at shipyards come to 32 percent of the existing fleet. In 2006 and 2007, 409 new ships will be delivered, which will temporarily reduce chartering costs. Yet from 2008, the ratio of supply and demand will switch in favor of shipowners due to the huge growth in the chemicals trade: It is set to grow by 6.3 percent every year until 2009, which translates into needs of 6.6 million tons annually. That rise is mainly due to the massive needs of China, which from 2000 to the end of 2004 doubled its imports of organic chemical products of oil, from 6.5 million tons to 13.2 million tons. More than 60 percent of China’s supplies come from Japan and other Southeast Asian countries. The picture is similar in inorganic chemical products, the category that includes sulfuric and phosphoric acid. With 16.9 million tons shipped this year, China accounts for 64 percent of the global rise in demand in the last five years, quadrupling its imports from 440,000 tons in 2000 to 1.78 million tons last year. However, the development of production units will allow China to reduce such imports in the future. As for vegetable oils and animal fats, their rise in the last five years is about 39 percent. In the 2005-6 period, China will import an estimated 8.1 million tons of these products. Yet a big demand for such products is being seen in India, too, as well as in EU countries due to the rise of biofuels. Imports by EU states will reach 8.4 million tons in the same period, up by 25.6 percent annually. This heavy reliance on the Chinese economy exposes shipping to a great risk, but investing in it seems worth it. Drewry Shipping suggests new ship orders have risen from 100 units in 2000 to 449 in 2005. Some 220 vessels fall into the 10,000-20,000-dwt category, which will cover rising needs on local and regional levels. This equals 52 percent of the existing 433 ships. In bigger categories – over 30,000 dwt – deliveries are expected equal 35 percent of today’s fleet. During 2005, new orders for this kind of ship dropped to 137 from 311 in 2004. Among the Greek companies in the market, Golden Energy of the Restis group stands out. According to data by the Moundreas firm, in early November Evalend Shipping ordered four chemical products ships with an option for another four. Prime Maritime, another Greek company, ordered four tankers of 75,000 dwt each to carry oil derivatives, for $49.5 million.