Excitement has been growing in the hard-pressed VLCC sector this week as excess US crude exports lead to more fixtures into China.

Brokers are also reporting unusually high levels of bookings from South America.

Norwegian broker Lorentzen & Co said US refineries are working at full tilt within the confines of reduced capacity.

This has led to crude supplies building up that cannot be processed.

“That’s why the crude oil tanker market got so excited when market reports surfaced this week of four VLCCs being fixed on subjects from the US Gulf to the Far East, with China being the chief buyer,” said Lorentzen’s chief shipping analyst, Nicolai Hansteen.

The latest of these, the Heidmar pool’s 300,000-dwt Apollonas (built 2016), secured a lump sum of $6m, or $34,000 per day, from Vitol for a loading in mid-July in the US Gulf.

A Trafigura-operated vessel has been fixed by Unipec at $6.175m.

A pair of VLCCs were also fixed into South Korea from the US Gulf, according to pool operator Tankers International.

“Since then, rates are rumoured to be further increased to $6.2m. No doubt, this is also raising expectations in the competing suezmax tanker market, also for stems out of West Africa,” Hansteen added.

Tankers International has counted an unusually high number of 2m-barrel vessels fixed in the US Gulf and from the east coast of South America for July dates.

Activity rising

In the first 10 days of next month, 16 tankers have been booked, up from an average of 10.

Over the following 10 days, a further 13 VLCCs have been secured by charterers, with 14 fixed in the final period of July.

“Already, more VLCCs are fixed for July than usually for this month, and we are only talking 23 June,” said Hansteen.

VLCCs are the last vessel size to be unmoved by the disruption resulting from the war in Ukraine.

Opec production rises have one eye on demand recovering in China from the pandemic.

This gives upside potential for owners, as more oil shifts eastbound from the Middle East Gulf, West Africa and the US, Lorentzen believes.

The broker notes a tanker fleet undergoing “extreme changes”.

“Russian vessels, much like their Iranian peers, are increasingly been shunned in the marketplace and many have been sold in the secondhand market or simply demolished,” the company said.

The US refinery crunch is also boosting product tankers.

The country is becoming increasingly dependent on imports of petrol from Europe, with US refiners having prioritised distillate production to the diesel-starved European continent in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The MR tanker trade from northern Europe to the US east coast is seeing hefty earnings of $32,535 per day.