SINGAPORE July 31 (Reuters) - Rates for capesize bulk carriers on key Asian routes are set to remain in the doldrums next week, staying flat or gaining just a few cents as an oversupply of ships weighs on cargo availability, ship brokers said.
But there could be brighter prospects in the coming weeks on rates for voyages from Brazil to China if chartering activity increases, brokers added.
"There's no real direction to the capesize market. There's not enough cargo volume," one Singapore based capesize broker said on Thursday.
Around 35 capesize ship were chartered last week to haul iron ore from Australia and Brazil to China, the largest number of capesize vessels fixed since September 2013, Jeffrey Landsberg, managing director of New York shipping consultant, Commodore Research & Consultancy, said in a note on Tuesday.
But a lack of coal cargoes coupled with increased tonnage capacity from new capesize ship deliveries has kept a lid on freight rates despite the rise in iron ore fixtures, brokers said.
"There's only been a couple of coal cargoes from Australia this week," the Singapore broker said.
Maintenance at Saldanha Bay, South Africa's leading commodities loading port, has limited the number of shipments, reducing chartering volumes, the broker added.
"Dull and without direction despite widespread expectations of near-term recovery," was how Norwegian ship broker Fearnley described the capesize market this week in a research note on Wednesday.
"Cargo volumes, coal in particular, presently not sufficient to employ a growing fleet," Fearnley said.
Some 40 capesize ships totaling 7.8 million dwt (deadweight tonnes) have been added to the global capesize fleet since January, according to data from Clarkson, the British shipping services firm.
But on a brighter note, charter rates from Brazil to China could rally in the coming weeks on the back of tighter vessel supply and a pick-up in chartering activity, the Singapore broker and Commodore's Landsberg said.
"Capesize shipping rates will increase once more vessels are chartered to haul Brazilian iron ore cargoes, which is likely to occur very soon," Landsberg added.
Rates for the Western Australia-China route closed at $7.88 per tonne on Wednesday, virtually unchanged from $7.86 per tonne a week earlier and the same level as the last concluded fixture on Wednesday.
Freight rates for the Brazil-China route closed at $18.60 per tonne on Wednesday up from $18.40 per tonne last week, while the last concluded charter was fixed at $18.64.
Charter rates for smaller panamax vessels could be flat or nudge lower next week as vessel overcapacity depresses freight rates, a Singapore-based panamax broker said on Thursday.
Rates for a panamax transpacific voyage closed at $3,594 on Wednesday, down from $4,228 per day last week, although the last concluded fixture was lower at $3,513.
Charter rates for supramax vessels in Asia climbed to around $8,000-9,000 per day on the back on fresh cargo fixtures, Fearnley said.
The Baltic Exchange's main sea freight index closed at 754 points on Wednesday, compared with 727 a week earlier. Technical analysis showed the index may end its weak rebound around 778 in a week, before falling towards 664.
Reporting By Keith Wallis; Editing by Michael Perry