Fuel for Thought

From Infomax (September 18, 2013) – “Shippers ask why high bunker surcharges if ships are so fuel-efficient.”

“Bunker surcharges should be falling faster than fuel prices because of more fuel efficient ships, but this is not happening and shippers are asking, says London’s Drewry Maritime Research.

“No change is evident in bunker surcharges despite the arrival of Maersk’s first fuel efficient 18,000 TEUer, and the availability of cheap fuel at Russian ports, said the report.

“The new 18,000 TEU vessels burn 35 per cent less fuel per TEU carried on a round voyage between Asia and North Europe than 13,000 TEU vessels which in turn burn 20 per cent less than a 9,000 TEUer, assuming constant speeds of 20 knots westbound and 14.6 knots eastbound.

“In the third quarter of 2011, the average size of vessels on the Asia-Europe run was 9,158 TEU, which increased eight per cent over the next year to 9,881 TEU, then by another nine per cent over the following year to 10,800 TEU.

“Mathematically, this means bunker surcharges should be falling faster than fuel prices, which is not immediately apparent except for Maersk Line.

“The availability of cheap Russian bunker oil since the beginning of the year should have brought down fuel surcharge levels. But carriers do not calculate surcharges on the basis of Russian prices.

“Pressure from shippers for lower or fixed bunker surcharges is expected to remain high.” –

Well, if the shippers don’t know and, presumably, can’t find out, let’s ask the little girl who taught us so much back when she was in fourth grade. She’ll figure it out for us.

“I’ll get to that little smoke-screen later, she said. “What I want to talk about now are the Panama Canal expansion costs I warned you about when I was littler. I remember reading one of your reports when I was just starting fifth grade – and that was in September of 2008. You were complaining about how we were failing to help the poor folks who had been hit by a hurricane back then, but we wasted no time in giving the folks in Panama hundreds of millions of dollars for the expansion of their canal. Remember that?”

That kid! She’s right. She did indeed read one of our commentaries. It was Vol. XVI, Art. 35. And she’s right about the money, too. Our Inter-American Development Bank had just given $ 400 million to the Panamanians for their project – and it’s $ 400 million we’ll never see again.

“Why weren’t the Japanese, Korean and Chinese, and the big shipping lines asked to pay for this project? Why are we getting stuck for the cost?” she asked us again. And she stumped us again.