IN spite of an anticipated lift in US oil imports this year, activity on the tanker market remains flat, with a similar number of fixtures last week as the week before. There were 18 vessels fixed of 4.5 million deadweight tonnes, of which 10 were booked to the west. The market reflected this situation by reducing the level for VLCC's from the Middle East Gulf to the west by five Worldscale (WS) points to where the rate is now firmly established at WS 42.5 for VLCCs, and a ULCC was closed at WS 41.5 for UK-Continentwith a 2.5 point reduction for the option of discharging in the US Gulf. For a cargo to east coast Canada, charterers had to concede a slightly higher level of WS 45.5. The rate presently in vogue for voyages to Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Singapore, is around WS 45. It would appear from the fixtures reported that owners of Aframax tankers operating out of this area found the going extremely hard and were forced to reducerates considerably in order to obtain cargoes. An 80,000 tonner fixed to Singapore at WS 82.5 while a similar size managed to obtain WS 91.5 for a voyage to Australia. At the same time, two VLCCs got cargoes destined for the US Gulf at WS 7.5 and WS 60, and a 80,000 tonner achieved US$1.35 million for the long-haul voyage to Japan. The Mediterranean market remains skittish with rates falling off a few points from last week. The most accurate barometer of the market remains the 80,000-tonne size operating in the cross-Med trades where the level runs between WS 82.5 and WS 92.5. There has, however, been one report of a vessel of this size satisfying a SBT requirement and early loading for a voyage from Banias to Spain at WS 105. Some 50 points were knocked off the market rate for Aframax vessels operating out of the Caribbean and east coast Mexico with WS 150 being accepted for a voyage from east coast Mexico to the US Gulf - a rate not dissimilar to that ruling for the Caribbean to US gulf and US Atlantic coast destinations. A 125,000 tonner closed from east coast Mexico to the Mediterranean at WS 57.5. The clean market has continued to struggle owing to the lack of sufficient firm enquiry to generate any significant market gains and in fact it was difficult to maintain previously established levels. The lack of enquiry emanating out of the Middle East Gulf for LR-size vessels caused rates to slip by four points to where WS 116 was paid for a 50,000-tonne size movement to Japan.