Charterers reassess Red Sea risk in light of Marlin Luanda attack
At least two major charterers appear to have reassessed their exposure to Red Sea transits in the wake of last week’s Houthi missile attack and more are expected to follow
According to Lloyd’s List Intelligence vessel-tracking data, yesterday saw the lowest vessel activity in the Red Sea since shipowners and charterers in all sectors first started to reroute around the Cape of Good Hope in November last year
TRAFIGURA and Kuwait Petroleum Corp appear to have reassessed their exposure to Red Sea transits in the wake of last week’s Houthi missile attack, which left one of Trafigura’s chartered tankers in flames over the weekend.
Tankers linked to both entities have rerouted in the wake of the strike on Marlin Luanda (IMO: 9829899), which was hauling a shipment of Russia naphtha when it was hit late on January 26.
The targeting of Marlin Luanda due to the Houthi’s identifying it as a “British oil ship” — apparently on the basis of a UK-based company that services a financial lease on the vessel, which is chartered by Trafigura and ultimately owned by institutional investors in Luxembourg — has sparked further concerns among charterers that all ships could be at risk.
While several other major charterers, notably Saudi Aramco, are continuing to sail through the risk zone, the latest swathe of diversions from Trafigura and Kuwait Petroleum come as overall vessel activity in the Red Sea has fallen to a new low.
Yesterday saw the lowest vessel activity in the Red Sea since shipowners and charterers in all sectors first started to reroute around the Cape of Good Hope in November last year.
According to Lloyd’s List Intelligence vessel-tracking data just 199 cargo-carrying ships over 10,000 dwt were active in the Red Sea yesterday.
That puts the weekly daily average of active ships at 229, down from 255 the week prior and down from 367 over the same period last year. The number of transiting vessels is likely higher given that some ships are opting to turn off their Automatic Identification System signals during Red Sea activity, however the figures point to a clear continuing trend of rerouting.
Two tankers linked to trading giant Trafigura were still waiting in the Red Sea on Monday in the wake of the Marlin Luanda strike.
Marshall Islands-flagged Free Spirit (IMO: 9409259), owned by Greek shipowner Nicolas Moundreas and on charter to Trafigura, loaded a cargo on January 24 in Bashayer, Sudan and was headed to South Korea at the time of the Marlin Luanda attack on Friday. The tanker immediately reversed course and has been positioned off the Saudi coast since Sunday.
Similarly, the Marshall Islands-flagged Marlin Loreto (IMO: 9823558) changed course abruptly at around 0400 hrs on January 27. Having passed through the Suez Canal on January 25 in ballast, the Trafigura-operated product tanker temporarily sought refuge in the Saudi port of Yanbu before starting north again on Monday afternoon.
Marlin Loreto also shares a common link with Marlin Luanda to the US banking giant JP Morgan. In the case of Marlin Luanda, JP Morgan acts as an adviser to the Luxembourg institutional investors who ultimately own the vessel, although the bank stressed that it did not own the vessel. In the case of Marlin Loreto, however, the bank is listed at the ultimate owner.
Trafigura declined to offer any further details of its plans for either vessel , but said in a statement: “No further vessels operating on behalf of Trafigura are currently transiting the Gulf of Aden and we continue to assess carefully the risks involved in any voyage, including in respect of security and safety of the crew, together with shipowners and customers.”
Meanwhile, two tankers chartered by Kuwait Petroleum Corp both diverted away from their previously stated route through the Suez canal on Monday. Both Minerva Pacifica (IMO: 9325831) and Advantage Porto Cervo (IMO: 9794850) are loaded with kerosene headed to Europe, but are now taking the long route around the Cape of Good Hope.
While many oil tankers had already been avoiding the region prior to the Marlin Luanda strike, some, including regional oil giants such as Saudi Aramco, are continuing to sail through. Others, like the Panama-flagged Khalissa (IMO: 9388780) which has only a Seychelles brass-plate registered ownership and a UAE-registered technical manager to identify it, sailed through at the end of last week with its AIS signal advertising the double protection of “TO RUSSA NO CON ISR”. A missile reportedly fell 500 metres short of Khalissa the last time it was sailing off Yemen earlier this month.
While Bab el Mandeb transits had shown signs of stabilising last week, this latest incident is widely expected to prompt further diversions, which are likely to last months rather than weeks as charterers make finally reroute.
Vortexa chief economist David Wech said this is likely to provide a persistent upside to freight rates, “which may still not be fully incorporated into global rates, as the further increase in tonne-miles as well as the growing rigidity of the system will have various knock-on effects”.
However, the impact is counterbalanced by currently low oil flows and an apparent weak spot in underlying demand, as well as by some adjustment in East/West flows; for example, more Atlantic Basin crude may stay in the region and less may come in from the Middle East, itself directed even more towards the East. Or more Wider Arabian Sea diesel may move towards South America and more US diesel to Europe.
“Nevertheless, quite some of the recent flows, especially of Russian origin, need to go towards the east and it will be interesting to see how many of the Russian volumes will continue to transit through Bab el Mandeb,” Wech said.