Maritime trade grew by 3%

In 2023, maritime trade grew by 3%, reaching 12.4 billion tons, according to data published by Clarksons Research. This growth, a 5% increase in ton-miles, is the largest since 2017, mainly due to the redistribution of Russian oil traffic. This reorganization led to a 7% increase in ton-miles for crude oil transport and a 10% increase for petroleum products.

Clarksons’ report indicates an upward trend in freight rates for maritime transportation of energy sources (gas, oil). The tanker sector experienced another strong year, with average revenues remaining high ($40,775 per day) due to the redistribution of Russian oil traffic. VLCC (Very Large Crude Carriers) revenues increased by 80% year-on-year to $43,206 daily, thanks to a surge in Chinese imports and Atlantic exports. The Suezmax and Aframax segments remained robust, surpassing VLCC revenues for the third consecutive year. The case of Clean MR (medium-range clean product tankers) decreased slightly but remained high ($26,948 per day).

Freight rates for LNG carriers softened year-on-year from the record high reached in 2022. The average spot freight for a 160,000 m3 DFDE (Dual Fuel Diesel Electric) vessel earned $97,077 per day, 34% above the trend of the last ten years. With a significant order book (52% of the fleet), strong growth of the LNG carrier fleet is anticipated in the coming years to handle the record volume of liquefaction capacity coming online between 2025 and 2027.

In the bulk carrier sector, average revenues in 2023 fell by 40% year-on-year to $12,371 per day, primarily due to the effects of accumulated fleet growth in recent years offsetting a demand increase. Meanwhile, container rates recorded an average year-on-year decline of 71%, and time charter freights decreased by 68%, following the normalization of a market that reached exceptionally high levels in 2021 and 2022.

In the car carrier sector, freights remained at historic highs, driven, among other factors, by increased Chinese exports, especially of electric vehicles. Since 2019, global maritime trade of automobiles in ceu·miles has grown by 19%, compared to a 1% expansion in fleet capacity. By the end of 2023, a one-year charter contract for a 6,500 CEU car carrier was priced at $115,000 daily.

Clarksons reports a “moderate” 3% increase in the global fleet in 2023, reaching 2.3 billion deadweight tonnage (DWT). The tanker fleet grew by only 1.9% and container ships by 8%. The average age of the global fleet was 12.6 years, with Clarksons estimating that about 31% of the worldwide tonnage will report D or E ratings in the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII).

Shipbuilding increased by 10% year-on-year in 2023, with China holding a 50% market share. Orders for tankers increased significantly (+235% in DWT, though from a low base). The focus is expected to shift towards container ships and gas carriers in the coming years.

The ship sale and purchase market remained high at around 129.9 million DWT, with prices for tankers and bulk carriers rising by about 15%. With this increase, the total value of the global fleet and order book reached $1.8 trillion. In the ship recycling sector, scrap volumes remained low (10.7 million DWT) with stable prices, around $510 per ton.

Steve Gordon, Global Director of Clarksons Research, mentioned that the Clarksea freight index fell year-on-year due to the normalization of the container ship sector. However, the index remained 33% above the trend of the last ten years, boosted by freight levels in the gas, tanker, offshore, and car carrier sectors, along with a late rebound in bulk carriers and container ships. “With the return to growth in maritime trade, the increase in new constructions, and the improvement in the sale and purchase market, 2023 has been a positive year for many segments of the maritime transport sector,” concluded Gordon.