The ice class fleet witnessed a significant lack of ordering activity in the recent years, according to a report from Gibson Shipbrokers.
Most of the recent newbuild investment has gone into Aframax tonnage with a mix of Finnish/Swedish ice class 1A and 1C orders.
Last November, Russian shipping major Sovcomflot (SCF) announced a huge investment in ice class 1A tonnage, ordering six Aframaxes (plus options), and at the same time stating their commitment to environmental standards by making them LNG powered.
Back in October 2016, Euronav made a rare venture into the newbuildings market by ordering ice class 1C Suezmaxes, with seven-year time charter attachments to serve the Quebec refinery to replace some of their older units.
Ice class tonnage by the nature of its employment is expensive to run and costly to repair and of course only command a premium during the short ice season. Older units, although built to ice class rules, may in fact drop out of these trades into the more conventional markets because of escalating maintenance costs.
Today, 72% of the Aframax fleet is over 10 years of age. Additionally, 70% of the Handy/MR fleet, as well as 78% of the Suezmaxes fleet, is over 10 years old. To put this into context, 68% of the whole ice class fleet today is over 10 years of age.
Analysis of the tanker orderbook shows only a handful of ice class units are currently firm orders, most already with committed employment. With so many units from the mid-2000s heading towards third special survey over the next few years, this niche market could potentially be heading for a shortfall, Gibson writes.
Forty-three percent of the fleet was built between 2003-2007 (10-15 years of age). Given that ice class tankers spend the greater part of their working lives in the ECAs, the impact of the 2020 sulphur legislation will be limited.
However, over the next few years many units will be required to invest in Ballast Water Treatment systems as well as the added expenses associated with working in ice in terms of steel replacement etc. Also, ships now have to comply with the safety part of the Polar Code by their first renewal survey. Many of the older units may require changes to fuel tanks to comply with the code.
As all of this comes at a cost, the companies that operate ice class tonnage will have some interesting choices to make over the next few years, according to Gibson.