Red Sea shipping crisis sends tremors through Asia fuel markets

SINGAPORE –The Red Sea shipping crisis is sending waves through Asia’s fuel markets, hoisting costs even on routes that do not use the waterway, while spurring sellers to reduce cargo premiums to offset the higher freight.

Rates for shipping products such as petrol have jumped as some vessels sail longer distances to avoid the Red Sea after attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels. This has tightened the market, first boosting costs of long-distance routes via the Middle East, and now spilling into voyages within Asia.

The cost of shipping 35,000 tonnes of fuel from South Korea to Singapore jumped almost 50 per cent over the last week to more than US$49,000 (S$65,700) a day, the highest since 2022, according to Baltic Exchange data. Meanwhile, the cost of larger tankers connecting the Middle East to Japan has hit the highest since 2020.

Global commodity markets, especially for crude oil and related products, are transfixed by the stand-off, which worsened in recent days after a fuel-laden tanker – the Marlin Luanda, operated on behalf of trading giant Trafigura Group – was set ablaze by a Houthi missile. The rebel group has been attacking merchant ships in support of Hamas against Israel, prompting retaliatory strikes led by the United States.

“The most recent attack on a laden tanker suggests things are getting worse, and not better,” said Mr Anoop Singh, global head of shipping research at Oil Brokerage.

The diversions have added 3 per cent to demand for clean tankers, which carry refined products, and about 1 per cent to dirty-tanker demand, he said.

Given the upsurge in freight costs, there are signs that fuel producers are having to slash cargo prices to keep supplies affordable for customers amid lukewarm buying interest for gas oil and jet fuel.

SK Energy sold three gas oil cargoes last week for February-to-March loading at a steeper discount to regional benchmarks, traders said. The refiner also cancelled an offer of a jet fuel cargo due to low bids. BLOOMBERG

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