Hong Kong shipowner KC Maritime has strengthened its focus on the dry cargo market after taking delivery of the first of five large Panamax bulk carriers under an order worth about US$200 million placed with a South Korean shipyard.
The ship, the 82,000 deadweight tonne (dwt) Darya Ma, has already left the shipyard on its first revenue-earning voyage bound for Australia to load a cargo of coal.
KC Maritime chartered the ship, which has an operating life of 25 to 27 years, for five years to Resource Marine, the specialist commodities and ship chartering offshoot of Australia's Macquarie Bank. Sham Chellaram, chairman of KC Maritime, said the ship was one of five sister vessels ordered from leading South Korean shipbuilder Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering in the previous two years.
The other four vessels are due to be delivered once every quarter next year. They will join the shipowner's existing fleet of three Panamax bulk carriers and three cement carriers.
With Panamax vessels ranging in size between 76,000 dwt and 93,000 dwt, the 82,000 dwt size was chosen for its economies of scale, cheaper operating costs and increased flexibility, according to a comparison by KC Maritime.
The vessels are expected to carry coal, iron ore, grain and similar bulk cargoes on commodity trade lanes linking Australia, Asia, India, Europe and the Americas.
The Darya Ma was the 'first in a series of firsts', Chellaram said at the naming and delivery ceremony at Daewoo's Okpo shipyard. He said the ship was the first KC Maritime ship to be built by Daewoo Shipbuilding - the first financed by Standard Chartered Bank and the first chartered to Resource Marine.
Pointing to the links with these firms, Chellaram said: 'These are all new relationships for KC Maritime.'
Woon Khoon Kee, global head of structured finance at Standard Chartered Bank, indicated the bank's interest in financing the other Panamax vessels on order. 'We hope it is the first of many to come in the future,' he said.
The Hong Kong-registered ship helped increase the number of vessels flying the Bauhinia flag to 1,909 ships, totalling 66.2 million gross tonnes.
The local offices of Reed Smith Richards Butler arranged the legal documentation, while Arrow Asia was the shipbroker. Steamship Mutual Management organised ship insurance, and Lloyd's Register ensured the ship met international safety conventions. The Darya Ma was also the latest ship to be delivered to Resource Marine, which is developing as a niche player since it was founded in late 2009.
David Abzatz, director of Resource Marine and executive director of Macquarie Bank, said the firm was seeking more long-term charter contracts to 'grow the business over the coming years'.
But delivery of the ship comes at a difficult time for shipowners. Clarkson, the British shipbroking house, said three-year charter rates for a Panamax vessel were now down to about US$13,500 per day, compared with a daily average of US$14,500 so far this year and an average rate of US$19,500 per day last year. These rates have more than halved since the average of US$44,356 per day for a three-year charter in 2008.
Peter Sand, shipping analyst with the Baltic and International Maritime Council, said more than 90 million dwt of new dry bulk carriers would be delivered this year. 'This will result in a fleet growth of more than 14 per cent,' he said.
By comparison, Sand estimated the mainland's iron ore imports would only grow 10 per cent this year, while demand growth of other bulk commodities - such as coal and grain - is likely to be below this level.
This overcapacity in tonnage, compared with cargo demand growth, is forecast to put pressure on charter rates at least until next year.
Shipbroker Clarkson's estimate of the number of Capesize ships, totaling 103.2 million dwt, which would be delivered up to 2015