Belships had its strongest start to the year ever during the first three months of 2022 and has declared its biggest ever dividend to shareholders.

The supramax and ultramax owner will distribute NOK 2.25 per share to investors, comprising an extraordinary payment of NOK 1.25 per share on top of its ordinary quarterly dividend.

The distribution, which totals NOK 569.6m, is based on Belships’ record-high net profit for the 2021 financial year.

Belships has meanwhile declared an option to purchase the 63,600-dwt ultramax bulk carrier Belnippon (2018) from Shoei Kisen of Japan.

The strike price was not disclosed but Belships described it as “significantly below current market levels”. Online data platform VesselsValue estimates the Belnippon’s current market value at $36.5m.

For the first quarter of 2022, Belships booked net profit of $59.5m, up from $16.5m during the same period last year.

The Norwegian firm said the result was mainly caused by the improved freight market and its larger fleet, compared to a year ago.

Belships’ commercial platform Lighthouse Navigation continued to deliver strong results. It generated $22.6m of Belships’ $60.5m Ebitda during the first quarter on the back of the company’s expansion plus increased margins from freight trading.

A year ago, Lighthouse contributed $3.5m to Belships’ Ebitda during the first three months.

The first-quarter results were powered by a year-on-year increase in earnings for Belships’ growing fleet of bulk carriers, which had 20% more vessel days compared to in 2021.

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Net freight revenue for Belships’ owned vessels was $54.3m in the first three months of this year, up from $23.2m during the period in 2021.

Its owned vessels earned an average time-charter equivalent (TCE) rate of $25,466 per day during the three months, around double the $12,802 per day earned in the same quarter of 2021.

Looking ahead, Belships has covered around 90% of its ship days this quarter at a gross daily rate of around $24,700 on average.

Over the next four quarters, it has around 70% of its ship days booked at about $24,000 gross per day.

In late April, Belships agreed to acquire two more Japan-built ultramax bulkers with time-charters attached and fixed two other vessels on period charters.