In March, the tanker market showed mixed patterns with VLCCs seeing a decline in spot freight rates on its
various trading routes, with spot freight rates remaining under pressure from the supply of high vessels in
this sector, while all other classes showed improved sentiment from the previous month. Average freight
rates in March increased for Suezmax and Aframax classes by 14% and 4% from February, respectively.
The higher rates were supported by several factors, but most importantly transit delays in the Turkish
Straits, discharge delays in the East, and the occasional tightening in tonnage supply in some areas.
Similarly, the clean market showed higher monthly freight rates on most reported routes, reflecting higher
rates from those registered a year ago on both eastern and western directions of Suez.
According to preliminary data, global spot fixtures increased by 5.7% in March compared to the previous
month, to average 16.87 mb/d. Higher spot fixtures were registered from the Middle East-to-West
destinations, which increased by 0.08 mb in March from February, to average 2.65 mb/d. Spot fixtures from
outside the Middle East registered a gain of 0.32 mb/d, or 9% in March, compared with one month before.
Sailings and arrivals
OPEC sailings increased by 0.02 mb/d, or 0.1% in March, to stand at 23.97 mb/d. This came along with an
increase in Middle East sailings. In March, Middle East sailings gained 0.09 mb/d, or 0.5% from the
previous month, to stand at 17.33 mb/d.
March Crude oil arrivals increased in European and Far East ports compared to the previous month,
expanding by 0.41 mb/d, or 3.4%, and 0.07 mb/d, or 0.8%, respectively, while arrivals to North America and
West Asia declined by 1.4 % and 1.5%, respectively.
The VLCC market saw steady activities at the beginning of March. However, this was not enough to support
VLCC spot freight rates, which remained under pressure, mostly edging down, as the tonnage list kept
growing. Spot freight rates for tankers operating on different routes showed a decline, with the exception of
some replacement fixtures. Despite April’s requirements into the market, March rates remained on a
declining trend as the ample tonnage supply subdued any chance for freight rates gains. Vessel earnings hit
multi-month lows. In March, VLCC spot freight rates for tankers operating on the Middle East-to-West route
showed the highest drop among all routes, down by 26% from the previous month to stand at WS28 points.
Freight rates registered for tankers on Middle East-to-East routes declined by 26% m-o-m, while VLCC spot
freight rates for tankers trading on West Africa-to-East routes fell 17% m-o-m to stand at WS59 points in
Suezmax closed the month exhibiting general freight rate improvements compared to one month before.
Suezmax average freight rates went up by WS10 points, or 13%, to stand at WS79 points in March. The
average gains in rates were registered despite limited activities at the beginning of the month. Chartering
conditions improved when April loading requirements were seen in the market and combined with a flurry of
inquiries, Suezmax rates strengthened with improved sentiment on various routes. In the Mediterranean, the
Suezmax market was active, which supported rates in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the latter also
witnessing a steady flow of cargoes. Delays in the Turkish Straits due to foggy weather also supported
In West Africa, a tightening supply of vessels supported freight rates. On average, spot freight rates for
tankers operating on the West Africa-to-US route increased by WS14 points in March to average
WS88 points. On the NWE-to-US route, Suezmax spot freight rates increased by 7% from February, to
average WS69 points. Suezmax freight rates were corrected down at the end of month, with rates adjusted
when charterers slowed market activities in order to arrest the increase in freight rates.
Aframax spot freight rates turned positive in March, showing gains from the previous month, albeit at lower
levels than those registered by Suezmax. On average, Aframax freight rates increased by 6% to stand at
WS113 points in March.
Aframax freight rates in the North Sea and the Baltics showed improvement, supported by high levels of
inquiries during the month and despite a surplus availability of ice class ships. Aframax spot freight rates in
the Mediterranean were also supported by port delays and long transit times at the Turkish Straits. Tankers
operating on the Mediterranean-to-Mediterranean and Mediterranean-to-NWE routes registered higher spot
freight rates of 10% and 14% during March, to stand at WS113 points and WS107 points, respectively. Spot
freight rates for tankers operating on the Indonesia-to-East route showed an increase of 16% from the
previous month to average WS121 points.
In the Caribbean, rates were affected by bad weather conditions that reduced lighterage activities, in
combination with a generally slowing market and limited delays in the US Gulf Coast. Aframax spot freight
rates in the region for tankers operating on the Caribbean-to-US East Coast went down by 16% in March to
average WS110 points, lower by WS22 points from the previous month. This was the only trading route that
saw an average drop in freight rates in March.
Clean tanker freight rates
Clean spot tanker freight rates shared the tanker market’s general upward momentum, with mostly higher
March freight rates, apart from one route. Average clean tanker rates rose in March, to show an
improvement not only on a monthly basis, but also on an annual basis. Average clean tanker freight rates
went up by 20% from February and by 38% from the same month a year earlier. The clean tanker market
has been fairly active in several areas, with improved sentiment mostly for LR1 and MR tankers.
In the East of Suez, clean tanker spot freight rates from the Middle East-to-East route experienced an
increase of 9% compared with the previous month. Clean spot freight rates for tankers trading on the Middle
East-to-East route averaged WS126 points in March, while average gains were offset by lower spot freight
rates registered for tankers operating on the Singapore-to-East route. These fell by 4% from the previous
In the West of Suez, clean tanker spot freight rates increased as rates edged up for tankers of different
sizes. Spot freight rates for tankers operating on the NWE-to-US East Coast increased by 23%, to average
WS166 points in March.
In the Mediterranean, March clean spot freight rates increased compared with the previous month, partially
on the back of operational delays. Clean spot freight rates for tankers trading in the Mediterranean-toMediterranean
route rose by 38% in March compared with the previous month, to average WS203 points.
Clean spot freight rates for tankers operating on the Mediterranean-to-NWE route gained 36%, to stand at
WS213 points. On average, spot freight rates registered in both East and West of Suez showed an annual
increase of 8% and 59%, respectively.