* Capesize rates hit new multi-month highs this week
* BHP and FMG likely to renew chartering activity next week
* Cyclone Debbie could dampened rates as coal mines close
By Keith Wallis
SINGAPORE, March 31 (Reuters) - Freight rates for large capesize dry cargo vessels on key Asian routes, which hit multi-month highs on Tuesday, could climb further on increased chartered activity by miners and operators, brokers said.
“Only Rio Tinto has been active this week - it picked off the injured animals - fixing ships for less than the last fixture, dampening the market by 50 cents a tonne,” a Singapore capesize dry cargo broker said on Friday.
“There’s been no competition - no BHP Billiton, no Fortescue Metals Group and no operators,” the broker added.
“In a scenario where there’s not enough charterers chasing ships it becomes a war of attrition between charterers and owners as both hold back and wait,” the broker added.
BHP Billiton and FMG are likely to jump back into the market next week, along with vessel operators rechartering existing vessels, the broker said.
But Cyclone Debbie, which struck Queensland this week causing extensive flooding and social disruption, could dampen chartering activity after coal mines were closed.
“Coal from eastern Australia isn’t a driver for the capesize market but it adds a bit more volume and cargo to the market,” the Singapore broker said.
Charter rates from Brazil to China have been more resilient, with rates of around $17 per tonne for loading around the second half of April.
“Charterers are trying to talk rates down but there are no cheapies,” the broker said.
“(The) Atlantic continues to remain positive with tonnage still tight, especially for the first half of April dates from Brazil,” Norwegian ship broker Fearnley said in a note on Wednesday.
Charter rates of Western Australia-to-China route rose to $6.79 per tonne on Thursday from $6.55 per tonne a week earlier. Rates hit $7.16 per tonne on March 28, the highest since Nov. 17.
Freight rates for the route from Brazil to China climbed to $16.43 per tonne on Thursday against $15.85 per tonne a week earlier. Rates surged to $16.77 per tonne on March 28, the highest since Dec. 2, 2014.
Charter rates for smaller panamax vessels for a north Pacific round-trip voyage climbed to $11,087 per day on Thursday, the highest since Nov. 10, 2014, from $10,098 per day a week earlier.
“Activity in the Panamax market has increased substantially in both hemispheres this week. East coast South American grains were the main driver, but general activity in the Pacific and the Atlantic has also been firmer,” Fearnley said.
Rates in the Far East for supramax vessels slipped to around $12,000 per day for south east Asia cargoes from around $12,500 per day last week.
The Baltic Exchange’s main sea freight index climbed to 1324 on Thursday from 1196 last week. (Reporting by Keith Wallis; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)