* Flurry of cargo fixtures push Australia, Brazil rates to highest since December
* Raft of charters brings idled ships back into market
By Keith Wallis
SINGAPORE, April 7 (Reuters) - Freight rates for large capesize dry cargo ships on key Asian routes are likely to hold steady next week near four-month highs if owners continue to reactivate idle tonnage on upbeat cargo demand, ship brokers said on Thursday.
"If more idled ships are put back into the market there may not be the support from cargo demand to push rates up any further," said a Shanghai-based capesize ship broker.
"Rates from Western Australia to China are still below $4 per tonne. Owners are offering $7 per tonne for Brazil to China, while charterers are bidding $6.50 per tonne," the Shanghai broker said.
That followed a flurry of cargo fixtures by miners, including BHP Billiton and Vale, that pushed rates to the highest level since mid-December.
That prompted some shipowners, ship brokers highlighted Zodiac Maritime Agencies, to put idled tonnage back into the market this week.
Zodiac's 172,510-deadweight tonne (dwt) capesize Cape Osprey was chartered by Oldendorff Carriers at $5,500 per day after being anchored east of Singapore since Jan. 11, ship chartering data on Reuters Eikon terminal showed.
Baccleuch, a 179,444-dwt capesize vessel, was chartered by Hyundai Merchant Marine from Zodiac at $5,150 per day, after the ship had been sitting off South Korea since pre-delivery sea trials in January, tracking data showed.
Shipbrokers estimated that globally there were around 70 idled and laid-up capesize vessels, typically used to haul iron ore and coal.
By comparison, 36 capesize vessels totalling 6.3 million dwt were scrapped in the first quarter of this year, an 85 percent year-on-year increase, ship broker Banchero Costa (Bancosta) said in a report on Thursday.
Similarly, 40 capesize ships of 7.6 million dwt were delivered in the first half, up 27 percent year-on year, Bancosta said.
Capesize charter rates for the Western Australia-China route climbed to $3.51 per tonne on Wednesday from $3.08 per tonne a week earlier. Rates hit $3.61 on Tuesday, the highest since Dec. 14.
Rates for the Brazil-China route rose to $6.73 per tonne on Wednesday, the highest since Dec. 22, from $5.80 per tonne a week earlier.
"Rates could increase further for prompt ships, but I don't think the push will continue above $7 per tonne," said a Singapore-based broker.
Panamax rates for a north Pacific round-trip voyage firmed to $4,403 per day on Wednesday, the highest since March 17, from $3,850 per day last week.
Freight rates for smaller supramax vessels rose to around $6,000 per day for a voyage from Singapore to India, up more than $1,000 from last week, Norwegian ship broker Fearnley said in a note on Wednesday.
The Baltic Exchange's main sea freight index rose to 500 on Wednesday from 414 the same day last week. (Reporting by Keith Wallis; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)