Steve's Guide To Vessel Types.


Bulkcarriers ("bulkers"), are the great work horses of the shipping world, carrying raw dry cargoes in huge cavernous holds, such as coal, iron ore, grain, sulphur, scrap metal. Until recently, there had been a huge demand for these vessels, driven by the extraordinary expansion of the Chinese economy. Imports of iron ore into China boosted the earnings of bulk carrier owners as freight rates went through the roof into uncharted territory. For a 'Capesize' bulkcarrier, daily hire rates of over $280,000 per day were recorded. Then came the downturn in late 2008 and freight rates have slumped, with bulkcarriers struggling to be fixed above $20,000 ! - quite a dramatic change in only a few months. Unfortunately, huge numbers of these vessels were ordered from shipyards during the 'boom' times. Taking about 2 years to build, many of these new ships will be delivered only to be sent probably straight to lay-up, as no work can be found for them.

The vessel on the top left is that rare beast called a "geared" bulkcarrier, so called because it carries it's own cargo cranes - very useful when visiting ports lacking portside cargo handling equipment.
The vessel on the top right is a more regular design of "gearless" bulkcarrier.

Bulkers range from about 25,000 Deadweight tons ("handysize") through the medium size ("Panamax") vessels of about 75,000 DWT, to the giant ("capesize") vessels of up to 200,000 DWT (Some go bigger than that even !). Demand for the large "Capesize" bulkcarriers has never been higher, and there are a few "subdivisions" within this "Capesize" type, such as "Kamsarmax" (being the largest vessels able to enter the port of Kamsar, Equatorial Guinea, at about 175,000 DWT), "Newastlemax" (being the largest to be able to enter the port of Newcastle, Australia at about 185,000 DWT) and "Setouchmax" (being the largest able to navigate the Setouch Sea, Japan at about 203,000 DWT). With such high demand outstipping supply, some Very Large Crude Carriers are being converted to Very Large Ore Carriers (VLOC) and this is now a new size type for bulkcarriers over 200,000 DWT. Due to the heavy use that these vessels are put to, their life-expectancy is less than it would be for say, a container ship.

A problem facing the industry is that with freight rates having slumped so dramatically, there is little money for ship owners to maintain the older tonnage. New equipment, experienced crews (another rare commodity these days) are all expensive. This coupled with the soaring cost of insurance (following a 'claims bulge' from the start of the decade), is leading to a 'white knuckle ride' for many operators of bulkcarriers.

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