Debut of new-generation ore carrier

Mammoth ore carrier Yuan He Hai (photo: China News Service). Mammoth ore carrier 'Yuan He Hai' (photo: China News Service).

A new generation of very large ore carriers (VLOCs) is set to realise further efficiency gains in iron ore transportation from Brazil to China, writes David Tinsley.

The project will increase the competitiveness of Brazilian ore in relation to shipments from Australia, China’s other principal supplier. The ultimate beneficiary will be China’s steel industry, the world’s largest exporter.

The 398,595dwt Yuan He Hai is the first in a series of 10 VLOCs ordered by COSCO Shipping Corporation’s Singapore affiliate China Ore Shipping, from Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding, on the strength of a long-term contract of affreightment with Brazilian iron ore producer and exporter Vale. The vessel took on her first load at the southern Brazilian port of Tubarao in February.

The design has been tailored by Chinese naval architects to the needs of Vale for the Brazil-China trade. With the anticipated delivery of the tenth ship in 2019, COSCO will have a total of 14 VLOCs of around 400,000dwt at its disposal.

Yuan He Hai is technically distinguished not only by the 15-20% advance in transportation efficiency relative to the first generation of 400,000dwt VLOCs built for the Brazilian export traffic, but also by the arrangements to facilitate retrofitting for operation on LNG fuel.  To that end, the bulker’s dual CCS/DNV GL classification includes the LNG Ready notation.

The mammoth bulker is powered by a single MAN two-stroke main engine, in the shape of a seven-cylinder version of the ultra long-stroke G80ME-C9 type. The nominal maximum continuous rating of the model is 32,970kW, although the somewhat lower rating understood to have been specified still ensures a service speed of about 14.5 knots. The diesel generator outfit is based on three Daihatsu 6DE-23 prime movers.

Between 2011 and 2014, Vale and partner shipowners received a total of 35 newbuild VLOCs in the 400,000dwt class, dubbed Valemax bulkers. The Brazilian group subsequently reduced its stake in shipowning by selling its 19 directly owned VLOCs to Chinese interests.

Yuan He Hai signals the beginning of a massive stage of new investment in 400,000-tonners for the Brazil-China trade, as a result of Vale’s entry into exceptionally long-term contracts of affreightment (COA) with Chinese and Japanese corporations.

The programme entails a total of 32 such vessels, and all tonnage is to be delivered by the end of 2019. Besides the 10 newbuilds for COSCO, 10 have been ordered by the China Merchants Group, and 10 are being constructed to the account of ICBC Leasing of China. In each case, the COA spans a 27-year period commencing during the second half of 2018, and calls for the shipment of 16m tonnes of ore per annum. All 30 VLOCs have been booked from Chinese yards.

A further two 400,000dwt VLOCs under construction at Japan Marine United will be provided by Japanese industrial carrier NS United Kaiun, on the basis of 25-year consecutive voyage charters to Vale.

In addition, investors from South Korea, Singapore, China and elsewhere have signed for multiple ore carrier newbuilds of 325,000dwt to serve the Vale export traffic. At least 10 of the vessels have been booked from Hyundai Heavy Industries by Polaris Shipping of Seoul. The class is dubbed the Guaibamax type, as the maximum size for the Guaiba Island loading terminal in Sepetiba Bay, southern Brazil.

Vale is the world’s largest producer of high-grade iron ore, but the shipment distance to the prized Chinese market is about 8,000 nautical miles (13,000km) greater than that for Australian supplies from mining groups Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.

The scale economies and enhanced operating performance of the second-generation Valemax and the Guaibamax VLOCs will sharpen Brazilian competitiveness. In the case of the 400,000-tonners, the project will also considerably enhance Chinese strengths in industrial shipping.


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