Empire Chemical Tankers, a company controlled by a branch of the Polemis family, has placed an order for several MR tanker newbuildings.

According to shipbuilding sources, the Greek outfit struck a contract worth slightly more than $230m with Hyundai Mipo Dockyard for up to six 50,000-dwt product carriers. The deal is said to be for four firm vessels plus options for two additional ships.

Officials at HMD declined to comment, citing contract confidentiality.

Managers at Empire Chemical Tankers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But usually reliable online databases, however, already list the newbuildings in the Greek company's fleet, with IHS Markit and VesselsValue identifying them as Hull Nos S515, S516, S517 and S518.

Shipbuilding sources said Empire Chemical's order was inked a few months ago but escaped public attention. HMD's sister shipyard Hyundai Vietnam Shipbuilding has been assigned to construct the MR tankers.

Empire Chemical is said to be paying around $38.5m each for the newbuildings and is scheduled to take delivery of the quartet in the second half of 2023.

The order of the 50,000-dwt product tanker newbuildings will drastically expand the Greek company's fleet, which currently consists of a pair of chemical product carriers — the 19,900-dwt Malmo and Madeiro (both built 2008).

The 19,900-dwt Malmo (built 2008) is one of two vessels currently trading in the fleet of Empire Chemical Tankers. Photo: Empire Chemical Tankers

Empire Chemical earlier this year offloaded a small chemical tanker, the 3,900-dwt Milos (built 2003), to Greek peer Seaven. The vessel is now trading as Seaven Horizon.

Empire Chemical had not been active in the sale-and-purchase, newbuilding or demolition markets since early 2014, when a chemical tanker sextet under its management was sold to a unit of Sweden's Stena Bulk for about $100m.

A little later in 2014, Empire Chemical was named as a possible buyer of six chemical tankers by MISC but this was never confirmed and a deal for the vessels did not materialise at the time.

New growth cycle

Shipbroking sources in Athens suspect that Empire Chemical has now found fresh investment from non-shipping investors to fuel a new round of growth.

The company's website states that it focuses on modern and efficient vessels operated "with the most sophisticated management systems available in the market".

Empire Chemical, which, according to latest available information was controlled by Leo Polemis, is targeting modern type 2 tankers of 20,000 dwt and 50,000 dwt and plans to grow its fleet to some 15 vessels by 2025.

The company says on its website that it "will also consider third-party management to grow its commercial platform and gain economies of scale".

A MR tanker specialist, Hyundai Vietnam added aframax tankers into its product portfolio earlier this year. It is building four 115,000-dwt LR2s for Vitol. The conventionally fuelled newbuildings reportedly cost $56.5m per ship. Vitol is expected to take delivery of the vessels by March 2024.

HMD has already achieved its newbuilding order target of $3.5bn this year. It has so far secured contracts amounting to $4.132bn, according to the shipyard's September 2021 financial report.