THE Easter break had done little to brighten the year for owners, with the market little changed. Rates for very large crude carriers (VLCCs) to the west are somewhat volatile, ranging between the Worldscale (WS) 41 and WS 43.75, while to the East the variation is greater, with WS 45 being the highest and WS 41.5 the lowest for voyages to Singapore. The level for the Red Sea stands about WS 43. During last week, 15 fixtures were made out of the Middle East Gulf encompassing some four million tonnes - with three ultra-large crude carriers (ULCCs) fixed to the Red Sea and of the 12 VLCCs fixed, threewere booked to the west and the remainder closed for eastern and Red Sea ports. This leaves 23 vessels of 6.7 million tonnes available for the month. There is little joy for owners of Aframax vessel, with rates remaining around the WS 72.5 level for voyages to the East. A reasonable volume of business has been concluded out of West Africa, mainly utilising the million-barrel size tanker, and rates have not had the same buoyancy as before the holidays. The current level shows that voyages to St Croix are closing at WS 77.5, similar to levels accepted for UK-Continent-Mediterranean destinations. Although there has been quite a lot of business transacted out of the Mediterranean, rates have been basically unchanged, with the exception of vessels able to satisfy more stringent requirements being able to obtain a little more than the rate for thenormal cross-Med voyage for the Aframax vessel which stands at around WS 90 to WS 97.5. There has been a gratifying quantity of business available for black oil carriers out of the Caribbean, but rates have been weaker than those prior to Easter with the 75,000-tonne size fixing from east-coast Mexico to the US gulf at between WS 130 and WS135 - similar to that obtained by similar-size vessels loading for US destinations. The short working week caused the clean market to struggle to maintain its previous gains, with a general lack of firm enquiry. With over a dozen LR-size fixtures being reported out of the Middle East Gulf this week, owners were able to put a brake on the fall in rates for voyages to Japan. Enquiry for MR-size tonnage in this area has been extremely thin, resulting in an accumulation of tonnage which enabled charterers to depress the market. One 30,000 tonner was closed at WS 135 for a voyage from India to Japan while for a similar size movement from the Middle East Gulf to India the rate was WS 140. There still remains interest in large product carriers for movements out of the Mediterranean to the East where a rate of US$1.35 million lump sum was obtained on a 60,000-tonne cargo to Japan. Demand for MR-size tonnage has been far less and consequently rates have slipped slightly to where a 30,000-tonne gasoil movement was slipped slightly to where a 30,000-tonne gasoil movement was fixed from this area to the UK-Continent at WS 145. Reportsupplied by London shipbroker E.A. Gibson.