Greece’s Pantheon Tankers is said to have made a surprise move in the shipbuilding market by making a splash in the LR2 product tanker segment.

Athens-based Pantheon is the latest company to have joined the crush for LR2 newbuildings at Chinese yards as the ship type looks set to continue to benefit from sanctions on Russian oil and a wider trend for long-haul trades.

Maran Tankers, Zodiac Maritime, Eastern Pacific Shipping, Union Maritime, Tai Chong Cheang Group, Dynacom Tankers Management, Thenamaris and Capital Maritime & Trading are among shipping names joining the dash to ink aframax contracts this year.

Greek shipowner Dynacom has booked the most, having ordered 10 firm vessels plus options for an additional four ships at DSIC Shanhaiguan Shipbuilding Industry Co — a subsidiary of Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Co.

Earlier this month, Transportation Recovery Fund — a shipping company controlled by publicly listed Invesco — also jumped into the LR2 segment with an order for three newbuildings at China’s Jiangsu New Hantong Ship Heavy Industry.

The LR2 tanker class has seized extra business on offer as Europe has looked to the Middle East to replace oil products it previously shipped from Russia.

The ship type amounted to 60% of the vessels hauling an “unprecedented” amount of clean products from the Middle East, South Asia and China to Western markets in the first four months of the year, according to Signal Maritime.

Clarksons’ Shipping Intelligence Network shows 34 LR2 tankers were ordered between January and April this year, while only 21 ships were booked in the whole of last year and just 17 in 2021.

Shipbuilding sources said Pantheon has struck a deal with Cosco Heavy Industry Yangzhou Shipyard for four 115,000-dwt product carriers to be delivered in 2026.

The Greek owner is said to be paying about $62m each for product carriers that will be powered by conventional marine fuels.

In March, Pantheon was reported to have inked a letter of intent with Singapore-listed Yangzijiang Shipbuilding for two LR2s to be delivered from late 2025 onwards.

One industry source said the “Pantheon-Yangzijiang” tanker deal was never finalised.

Officials at Cosco HI Yangzhou were not available for comment, while Pantheon did not respond to emails seeking confirmation.

Shipbuilding sources said Pantheon’s deal was the second LR2 newbuildings contract that Cosco HI Yangzhou had inked this year. The first was from George Economou’s TMS Tankers, which involved three ships.

Pantheon was set up in 2013 and is controlled by Anna Angelicoussis-Kanellakis, her sons, Frangiskos and Antonis; and her daughter, Maria Kanellakis. The company currently has 40 tankers on the water: 10 VLCCs, nine suezmax carriers, seven aframax crude tankers and 14 MR tankers.

Pantheon is affiliated with Alpha Gas, which owns eight LNG carriers.

In addition to the impact of sanctions, Banchero Costa shipping analyst Ralph Leszczynski said the general trend in recent years has been that long-haul clean products trades have been growing as refining capacity expands in places such as India and the Middle East, with new modern export-orientated refineries, while older refineries in Europe and places such as Australia and South Africa close down as they find it financially uncompetitive.

The strong demand for LR2 tankers has allowed Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding to revive its Shanghai Shipyard, which delivered its last vessel in 2019, and privately owned Jiangsu New Hantong, which also handed over its last LR2 that year.