Baltic and Mediterranean seas map

Main trade flows and backhaul routes in Baltic Sea and Mediterranean

In a previous article, we discussed the importance of the backhaul fixtures for the long-term utilization and profitability of the vessels and analyzed the main backhaul routes worldwide for the deep-sea shipping. Back-haul routes are also important in the short-sea shipping though. Despite the short distances which are involved in these trades, fixing back-haul cargoes is becoming important due to the small vessels which are mainly utilized and their lower profitability.

In OpenSea, we have noticed high cargo activity in the Baltic sea and Mediterranean (including Black Sea) with cargoes ranging from as low as about 1,000 MT, which are loaded in mini bulkers, up to about 25,000 MT, which are loaded in small handysizes. While the bigger bulkers usually load major bulk cargoes (i.e. iron ore, coal, grains and other minerals) which are mainly traded in specific routes, these small bulkers load any type of bulk cargoes, both minor and major, while due to their high versatility, they can load and discharge in several ports and in different directions. Despite the fact that there are not standard routes, it is generally the case that higher loading export activity is noticed in Black Sea ports and Baltic Sea ports, while UK and Mediterranean (West and East Med) are mainly discharge regions.

Black Sea countries are major exporters of grains, steel products, coal and fertilizers. Russia (e.g. Novorossiysk) and Ukraine (e.g. Odessa, Kherson) are the main exporters for grains which are mainly discharged in Turkish Black Sea ports, the Sea of Marmara, East Med ports (e.g. Egypt & Libya), North Africa (e.g. Tunis, Algiers) and West Med, while in a few cases grains from Ukraine may also be discharged in North Europe (ARAG). Steel products are exported usually in shipments of 3,000 up to 10,000 MT from Ukraine (i.e. Odessa, Oktyabrsk, Mariupol), Russia (i.e. Novorossiysk, Rostov-on-Don) and Romania (e.g. Constanta and Galati) and they are mainly discharged in East Med (Egypt and Turkish Med), Adriatic Sea (e.g. Ravenna port) and in some fewer cases in West Med. Steel products may also be exported from Turkish Black Sea (i.e. Eregli port) to Greece and other East Med ports. Coal is exported from Russia (i.e. Tuapse, Azov, Rostov-on-Don), Ukraine (Nikolayev, Mariupol) and Romania (port of Constanta) mainly to Turkey (Samsun, Marmara Sea ports, Izmir, Nemrut Bay, Iskenderun) in shipments of about 3,000 – 10,000 MT. Urea, Ammonium Nitrate, Sulphur and fertilizers are exported out of Ukraine (i.e. Yuzhny, Kherson and Nikolayev) and Russia (i.e. Novorossiysk, Tuapse, Kavkaz) to other ports in Black Sea (Romania and Bulgaria), Marmara Sea, East Med (Turkish Med and Egypt), Adriatic Sea and West Italy.

Baltic Sea is active in many different commodities which are traded either in intra-Baltic region or exported into UK and Mediterranean. Grain cargoes are mainly exported out of North France to Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Italy with shipments ranging from as low as 3,000 MT up to handysize quantities. Coal cargoes are exported mainly out of Latvia (Riga Port) and Russia (i.e. Kaliningrad) as well as Poland (i.e. Gdansk) mainly to Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland. Steel products are exported from Russia (i.e. St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad) mainly to UK, Netherlands and Spain (North Spain and Spanish Med), Scrap is exported from Russia (i.e. St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Vyborg), Lithuania (Klaipeda port) and Estonia (Tallinn port) mainly to Turkey, Spain and Portugal as well as to Netherlands and Germany. Fertilizers are exported from Russia (St. Petersburg and Viborg), Lithuania (Klaipeda) and Estonia (Tallinn) to Spain, Ireland, Iceland, UK, Netherlands and Belgium. Saw Timber is exported from Russia (St. Petersburg, Ust Luga), Latvia (Riga, Liepaja) and Lithuania (Klaipeda) mainly to UK as well as to Egypt, France, Netherlands and Belgium.

While the vessels mainly discharge in the Mediterranean, they need to find back-haul cargoes in order to be repositioned either to Black Sea or Baltic Sea. Some of the main back-haul trades we meet in this region are the following:

Black Sea and Marmara Sea Regions

Vessels opening in Marmara Sea or inside the Black Sea are very close to the loading ports and in some cases they prefer to take the short ballast instead of fixing backhaul cargoes. For bigger vessels it may make sense to take the ballast which shall bring the vessel to the loading area much earlier, however there are also backhaul cargoes returning to Russia, Ukraine, Romania or in some cases directly to Baltic sea. Specifically, a few of the backhaul cargoes out of Marmara sea and Black Sea are the following:

  • — DAP from Turkish Black Sea (i.e. Samsun Port) to Constanta which usually takes place in cargo stems of around 5,000 MT or less.

  • — Bulk Cement, Cement in bags and clinker are loaded from Marmara Sea (i.e. Gemlik, Bursa ports) to Russian Black and Azov Seas, while ships opening in Marmara, instead of returning to Black Sea can also take a longer front-haul by transporting cement or clinker to North Europe/Baltic.

  • — Steel products are loaded from Marmara Sea ports to Romania (i.e. Constanta) usually in shipments of around 3,000 MT.

  • — Saw timber from Marmara Sea ports to Georgia (Poti or Batumi ports) which are usually met in shipments of about 2,000 – 4,000 MT as return cargo at ports which are very close to Russian Black Sea.

East Med Region

Egypt who is the main importing country in East Med is a major importer of grains and steel products which are mainly coming out of Black Sea. Egypt is importing about 6% of the world grains transported by sea, while another about 1% of world imports of grains is taken by Libya. Therefore a big volume of vessels are opening in East Med ports. Considering also the vessels which open in Cyprus and South Turkey the number of vessels opening in the area are much more than the potential cargoes each time. For this reason, East Med (along with Central Med) is usually considered as one of the weakest regions in the Atlantic. Especially the bigger vessels 15,000 or bigger usually return to Black sea in ballast condition however there are a few backhaul cargoes for smaller vessels. The main issue here is that most of these cargoes are dirty (e.g. cement, urea, chrome ore) therefore an extensive cleaning will be required in order to load again grains afterwards. Some of the cargoes which we meet in East Med are the following:

  • — Cement in bags is loaded from Turkish Med (Iskenderun, Mersin) to be discharged to Russian Black/Azov Seas. This is a potential back-haul routes for the vessels which have opened in East Med.

  • — Chrome ore is exported from Turkish Med (Mersin or Antalya) to Russia (Rostov-on-Don) in shipments of about 3,000 MT up to 5,000 MT.

  • — Urea which is loaded in Egypt (i.e. Damietta port) and discharged in Bulgaria (i.e. Varna) being an interesting backhaul from Egypt (who is the major export of grains from Black Sea countries) to Black Sea. This trade usually takes place in 5,000 – 6,000 MT shipments.

  • — Urea loaded from Egypt and discharged in North France (i.e. Rouen) usually in 5,000 MT shipments with the vessel returning in a major port for loading grains.

  • — Bauxite from Greece (e.g. Itea Port) to Romania in shipments of about 5,000 MT.

  • — General cargoes loaded from Adriatic ports of Italy and discharged in North Sea, being a potential return trip for vessels opening in Adriatic Sea or Central Med.

Central Med

Algeria and Tunisia are responsible for about 5% of the world seaborne imports of grains which are imported mainly from France and in a lesser extend from Black sea. About 16 million tons of grains are discharged in these two countries each year. These vessels discharging there along with the vessels discharging in Italy are the main opening vessels in the area. In most cases, the vessels opening in these countries do not find cargoes from the same countries since North African countries have a poor exporting activity with mainly some fertilizers cargoes which are not enough to cover a big percentage of the vessels opening there. Therefore, in most cases the vessels need to take a small ballast either to South France or alternatively to East Med or West Med and find a new back-haul cargo from there. In any case, finding a backhaul cargo from Central Med seems necessary since the ballast leg to Black Sea or Baltic is much longer than the ballast required for vessels which are opening in East Med or West Med accordingly. Cargoes for the vessels opening in Central Med are the following:

  • — Fertilizes loaded in Algeria (Annaba port) are discharged to Ukraine (Nikolayev) in shipments of up to 10,000 -15,000 MT.

West Med/Atlantic

West Med seems to be stronger than Central or East Med in terms of the freight dynamics since the vessels opening there are less than in the other two cases. Also vessels can source cargoes from Morocco, Spain or France which can cover a lot of the opening vessels. Also a few vessels, mainly the larger ones prefer to take a ballast to North Sea or Baltic, which helps the supply to come closer to the available cargoes.

  • — Steels and agricultural products are loaded from South Spain (i.e. Sevilla) to Baltic Sea usually in about 3,000 MT shipments.

  • — DAP from Morocco (i.e. Jorf Lasfar port) to Constanta. This trade usually takes place in sizes of around 5,000 – 10,000 MT and can be utilized by vessels which have discharged and opened in West Med and which prefer to be repositioned in Black Sea instead of the Baltic region.

  • — Steels and general cargoes are loaded from North Spain and Portugal for discharge in ARAG region usually in parcels of about 3,000 – 5,000 MT.

  • — Grains loaded from Atlantic France (i.e. Bordeaux port) for discharge in Sweden in small quantities of about 2,000 – 3,000 MT. This can be a possible return cargo for vessels opening in North Spain or North Portugal (e.g. Aveiro port).

  • — Steel products from UK (e.g. Cardiff port) are exported to Russia (e.g. St. Petersburg) in shipments of about 3,000 – 5,000 MT while steel products are also exported from East UK to Netherlands and Belgium in shipments of about 2,000 MT.

  • — Fertilizers from UK (e.g. Immingham port) are exported to Netherlands and Belgium in small shipments of about 2,000 – 3,000 MT.

Of course these are not all the available backhaul routes in these regions. However even more options could be seen inside our marketplace. One of the main values that the OpenSea offers to its users is the ability to source backhaul cargoes together with the front-haul ones. By visualising the actual balance of supply & demand in the different regions, every user can easily understand whether it gives more value to fix a backhaul cargo or sail in ballast condition to the exporting regions. Whatever the decision will be, in OpenSea we give users the opportunity to find matching ships and cargoes right after they place an open position. This way, there is no need to browse hundreds of emails and check a mailbox every minute, since we notify users of any matching cargo or ship, even when they are offline. Who is going to reject such additional comforts?

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