PACIFIC Basin Bulk Shipping launched this week the second of eight 26,300 dwt handy-size bulk carriers on order from Guangzhou Shipyard International. The vessel, Handy Althea, which is suitable for carrying grain, coal, logs, packaged lumber and steel products, will be delivered ahead of schedule in August. The ship is 168 metres long and 26 metres wide with a draft of 13.3 metres. A sister ship, Handy Gunner, was launched last month and will be delivered in July. Both vessels, costing about US$19 million each, have been chartered by Japan's Mitsui OSK Lines for two years. The Pacific Basin series represent one of the largest orders won by Chinese shipbuilders since 1980 and is worth more than US$150 million. Some of the financing was arranged with Den norske Bank. The ship design was developed by Pacific Basic Bulk Shipping in conjunction with Guangzhou Shipyard, Lloyd's Register of Shipping and Anglo-Eastern Ship Management. Anglo-Eastern has sent a five-member team of surveyors to Guangzhou to supervise the construction of the ships. The design of the vessels is particularly well suited to shallow Asian ports. Two other ships of the series have been employed by European-based charterers but the vessels will operate in the Asian region. Another ship has been assigned to an American operator. Pacific Basin, which owns and operates more than 20 modern handy bulk carriers, has 14 ships on order at Chinese yards. These include two 27,000 dwt bulk carriers at Xingang Shipyard, four of 24,000 dwt at Shanghai Shipyard and one of 27,000 dwt at Hudong Shipyard. The first two Shanghai ships are already committed to charterers. With the delivery of the mainland ships, Pacific Basin will be the largest owner of modern handy-size bulk carrier tonnage in the world. 'We believe that we now have the largest modern fleet of handy-size vessels operating in the Asia-Pacific region,' executive chairman Chris Buttery said. All of Pacific Basin's new tonnage will be fitted with Inmarsat A communication equipment and the latest software to improve efficiency and reduce costs. The software was designed and marketed by Rydex Maritime Technologies Asia, of which Pacific Basin is a shareholder. Guangzhou Shipyard director Li Guanghui said the yard has 15 ships on order, of which 12 were for export. The exports are handled by the China National Machinery Import & Export Corp. Mr Li said the yard was scheduled to deliver six vessels this year. The yard's construction capacity will be expanded from 180,000 dwt to 200,000 dwt by the end of this year. Its three berths are capable of building vessels of up to 60,000 dwt.