The slow pace of resumption of Libyan crude exports and a European Union oil embargo on Syria are reducing prospects for a ship rate recovery this year in the smaller Mediterranean tanker market, analysts and brokers say. Aframax tankers on the Mediterranean route, which transport the majority of Libya's crude oil, normally carry up to 600,000 barrel loads.
Earlier this week the chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation told Reuters oil production can restart within weeks and reach full pre-war output within 15 months. "The recent events in Libya offers promise for a return of Libya's crude supply to the market, but a quick return to meaningful volumes seems unlikely," said George Los, senior market analyst with ship broker CR Weber. "There will unlikely be much positive support for the aframax sector before 2012. It's likely aframax activity in the Mediterranean and Black Sea market will conclude the year down 21 percent from 2010."
Average aframax earnings had jumped to nearly $50,000 a day in early March when fighting to oust leader Muammar Gaddafi prompted a scramble by buyers to get cargoes out of Libya.
Earnings then dropped as West African crude, shipped in larger tankers, replaced Libyan cargoes. Average earnings reached $1,966 a day on Thursday, below the operating cost levels estimated around $8,500 a day. "The lost (Libyan) production equated to about two aframax cargoes per day, exacerbating an already slackened balance of tanker supply and demand and further eroding freight rates," brokerage Poten & Partners said.
"From a transportation perspective, the accompanying rise in cost of bunker fuel also ate into owners' voyage revenues, further stressing earnings." OPEC member Libya was producing about 2 percent of global oil output or 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) before the war and has reserves to sustain that level of production for 80 years.
"Current production is virtually nil, with some suggestions that it may get up to 0.3 million b/d this year and 0.5 million b/d by mid-2012, with the climb back to the pre-crisis level of 1.6 million b/d taking a further 6-12 months," broker E.A. Gibson said. "This means full output would not be achieved until 2013 and leave the Med aframax market 'restricted' for some time to come."
Aframax tankers in the Med market are also used to lift crude oil from Syria but a violent five-month-old crackdown on pro-democracy protestors as well as existing sanctions have led to slower aframax trade there. European Union governments agreed on Friday to ban imports of Syrian oil in a move to strengthen economic pressure on the President Bashar al-Assad and his government.
CR Weber's Los said while EU sanctions would be an unwelcome development for aframax owners in the Med market, the effects "are likely to be marginal at the worst". "Replacing Syria's crude supply would be much easier for European refineries as it's sour crude and more easily sourced from alternate regional producers, but any congruent boost to tonne-mile demand would remain minimal and limited to the aframax class as present buyers are not oriented to parcels carried on larger tankers," said Los.