Tankers: Severe US Gulf Coast weather delays tonnage, pressures freight

The suspension of pilot services on US Gulf Coast maritime waterways Tuesday due to icy conditions, high winds and rough seas, has resulted in loading delays and lackluster trading on the Americas tanker markets.

All USGC pilot services and ship channels were set to resume operations sometime Wednesday afternoon, according to Moran-Gulf shipping agency reports.

A source close to the dirty tanker market said of the severe winter conditions: “I was talking to a guy that [worked] at the terminals down on the Gulf [who] said when this kind of stuff happens everything just slows to a halt, so I expect there to be some delays [in dirty tanker positions] in the coming days.”

Already-growing tonnage over the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend took on further length and started to place downward pressure on clean freight rates for tankers loading on the USGC to intra- and interregional destinations.

“The ship channel being closed has had tonnage stack up even more,” a clean shipbroker said in light of the sluggish demand at the start of the week that is expected to pick up by end-Wednesday.

USGC position lists viewed by S&P Global Platts showed 58 vessels were expected to open during the next 10 days, including around 12 prompt units. The Friday before the holiday weekend showed a more balanced supply list, with around 40 open vessels including three prompt units.

Medium Range tanker freight on the USGC-Caribs run was heard to be down $25,000 on the day to $575,000 lumpsum Wednesday morning, while Platts pegged USGC-trans-Atlantic voyages rates at steady levels of w135.

Dirty tanker chartering rates were yet to be effected Wednesday morning with a palpable wait-and-see attitude from market sources.

Yet shipping rates on East Coast Mexico markets were seen to find support from recent weather related logistical disruptions.

On the clean tanker market, trips from the USGC to ECMexico are being talked at $330,000 lumpsum although the run was last heard done at $350,000 lumpsum and is expected to find upward support from inclement weather in Mexico on Thursday and Friday.

“PMI is pulling a lot of ships off the list, which should buoy everything a bit,” a third source said. “PMI drives the show in the USGC.”

East Coast Mexico dirty Panamax rates were trading at a small premium to Caribbean freight due to thinner positions and the inclement weather causing some delays on short-haul runs in the Gulf of Mexico.

A deal was reportedly done on an east coast Guatemala loader for an Upcoast run at [Worldscale 110], a rough proxy for an ECMexico-USGC journey, a source said lending support to a slightly firmer premium on Panamaxes loading in the Gulf relative to the Caribbean. Firm details on the booking could not be confirmed.

The Houston Ship Channel is set to open at 1 pm CST (2100 GMT).

“At 1300 hours two arrivals and seven sailings are set to proceed,” port agent JJ Plunkett at the Houston Pilots said.

Currently, 22 vessels are waiting to sail inbound, while 19 are set to proceed outbound, according to the Houston Pilots.

Yet the Houston Ship Channel issued a low water warning, according to which deep draft vessels will be delayed as strong north winds and high pressure continue to move through the area, as these winds pushed considerable amount of water out of the waterway.

Deep-draft vessels include any of the ships that require pilotage.

The Sabine pilots were the first to close down at 10 am, followed by the Aransas Corpus Christi pilots af 1:45 pm and pilots on the Mississippi River at 6 pm, according to Moran-Gulf shipping agencies. The Houston Ship Channel and Texas City/Galveston ship channels were closed to all traffic at 4 pm.

The 52-mile ship channel provides access from the Gulf of Mexico through. Galveston Bay to various ports in Houston and other cities in the area that have many industrial facilities, including refineries, petrochemical plants and steel and metal facilities.

Source: Platts

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