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Multi-Purpose Heavy Lift Operators Vie for Top Spot

AAL Galveston
AAL Galveston

Published Apr 25, 2015 7:51 PM by Wendy Laursen

This month has seen a new leader in the heavy lift tonnage stakes. According to Dynaliners, BBC Chartering has taken top spot amongst the operators of multi-purpose, heavy lift project vessels globally measured by deadweight.

However, Cosco Shipping, now occupying the number two position, has growth ambitions. On January, 8 the company signed a contract of building 4+2 multi-purpose heavy lift vessels each 28,000dwt at China’s Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard. Cosco already operates eight similar vessels.

There are currently 435 ships in this category with a total deadweight of 7.2 million tons. Down by around 10 percent from last year, Dynaliners cites the less favorable oil and gas market as a primary cause.

The sentiment is echoed by Drewry Maritime Research. Global dry cargo demand growth, forecast at five percent per annum from 2016 to 2019, will be offset by falling project cargo volumes over the next twelve to eighteen months, according to the latest edition of the Multipurpose Shipping Market Review and Forecaster, published by Drewry Maritime Research.

"The fall in oil prices, coupled with growing demand and a diminishing fleet should be good news for the multipurpose shipping sector. However, it appears that the flipside of lower bunker prices is a global decline in oil and gas investment projects. There have already been reports of fewer project cargoes available for the multipurpose fleet to carry as project investment has started to slow", comments Susan Oatway, Lead Analyst, Drewry Maritime Research.

With the fall in prices, there is less incentive to invest in oil and gas projects – one of the largest project cargo sectors. This will, in turn, mean a reduction of available cargo and slower demand growth for the fleet. ‘‘Our analysis of the fleet shows that the simple multipurpose fleet is in decline, with little investment beyond replacement tonnage. However the more advanced vessels, the project carriers, are seeing fleet growth of around 3.5 percent per annum to end 2018. It is the cargo for these vessels that is directly affected by this slowdown in the sector’’, said Oatway.

The effective demand for the multipurpose fleet is set to rise at an average rate of 5 percent per annum to 2019. But, there is a caveat to this positive forecast, effective over the next two years. Because of the fall in oil prices and the competition from the container fleet in particular, the growth in demand is expected to be subdued over 2015 and 2016.

"The outlook for the multipurpose sector will be largely determined by developments within the container and bulk markets and how far they will encroach on general, breakbulk and project cargo. As usual, the effect of lower oil prices has delayed the project market, but we expect 2015 to be a slow year as the sector readjusts to the idea that oil is no longer priced at $100 per barrel", says Oatway.

“Much however can change rapidly in the next few months since the oil price is showing an upward trend,” says Theodor Strauss, a past guest lecturer for the STC Group Master Course in Rotterdam and South Korea and former Managing Director of K Line (Nederland). 

“What should not be underestimated are the proliferation of windfarms being on the drawing board worldwide, requiring well equipped vessels, with long holds and perfect deckspace.  The push for more eco-friendly power solutions is still gathering momentum.  It is obvious that modern multi-purpose vessels are then more than required,” says Strauss.

In the last few weeks, some ship managers have made additions to their fleet. AAL, coming in at number six on Dynaliners’ top ten managers, has taken AAL Galveston into its fleet on long-term time charter.

Namir Khanbabi, Managing Director of AAL’s Tramp and Projects Division said, “We have seen growth in some core industry sectors, particularly renewables, where logistics challenges have become greater – as components get larger and more complex to transport – and ports of loading and discharge more globally widespread.

“The AAL Galveston increases our service capabilities and options, in support of a highly diversified customer base and our strategy to continue to build it even further,” says Khanbabi.

AAL Galveston is a multipurpose, heavy lift Super A-Class vessel, which AAL has re-classified under its own fleet classification criteria to G-Class. At 25,800 dwt, it is highly versatile and has a combined lifting capacity of 240 tons and large, strengthened cargo holds.

Intermarine, number nine on the Dynaliners list, has begun its Fleet of the Future deliveries with the addition of the Industrial Grand. The 20,000dwt, multi-purpose vessel features three cranes with a combined lifting capacity of up to 900 tons. 

The Industrial Grand is the first of 20 new eco-friendly lifters that will join Intermarine’s core fleet during the next 30 months. The vessel’s maiden voyage will see it travel from Shanghai, China, to the U.S. Gulf Coast to deliver a large and complex petrochemical processing tower. 

“The Industrial Grand represents a glimpse into the future, harnessing eco-friendly technology and increased lifting capacity,” said Al Stanley, President and CEO of Intermarine. 

The deliveries will mark the beginning of a series of eco-friendly deliveries and add to the range and capabilities of Intermarine’s core fleet of more than 50 vessels. The Industrial Grand will be joined by sister vessel Industrial Glory in May 2015.