Market spikes are failing to convince owners to run ships any faster between ports, according to Clarksons Research.

Figures from the UK company show a big downward trend in steaming speeds since the 2008 financial crash that is unlikely to change any time soon.

Analyst Sarah Holden explained that vessel speeds have an important impact on both supply-demand dynamics and fleet emissions.

“Our data has tracked an underlying downwards trend in speed across all major sectors since 2008, albeit with variation and increasing complexity,” she added.

As a result, the company has developed new data series showing speed trends by eco engine and scrubber status.

Holden said: “So far, fuel economics appear to have been a clear driver of variation in speed within shipping segments. However, as the fuelling transition continues to evolve, there is the potential for differences in speed trends to be amplified as more ‘tiered’ markets develop.”

Clarksons Research data shows bulkers travelling 17% slower since 2008, and tanker speed down more than 20%.

For container ships, the figure is a reduction of 25%.

Much of this drop has been a response to extended periods of excess shipping capacity, the company believes.

But periods of high fuel prices, and now an increasing focus on vessel emissions, have also impacted, Clarksons Research added.

“Speeds have always varied in response to market conditions and bunker prices, but in recent periods of market strength, speeding up has been much more limited,” Holden said.

Boxships edge up despite rate records

In recent record boxship markets, vessel speeds stood only 1.2% above the 2019 average in mid-2021, and had dropped back by August 2022.

Bulkers were only travelling 1.8% faster over the same period when markets hit 13-year highs.

As rates fell, speeds were down 1.2% from 2019 by August this year.

Tanker speeds have increased only marginally, despite rates booming back.

Last month they were still 1.1% below 2019 in the products sector and 3.3% below for crude tankers.

The specification of a vessel is a key factor in its speed, Clarksons Research said.

Eco VLCCs have averaged 11.6 knots this year, 4% quicker than older sisters, the company added.

Similar variation is apparent if splitting the fleet into scrubber-fitted tankers at 11.6 knots and non-scrubber units at 11.1 knots, Holden added.

“These trends have generally reflected the differences in fuel costs: eco ships due to their lower fuel consumption, and scrubber-fitted ships due to their ability to use less costly higher-sulphur fuel," the analyst said.

“For example, to optimise earnings, in stronger markets ships with lower fuel bills are more likely to speed up, whilst in weaker markets ships with higher fuel bills are more liable to slow down,” she concluded.