Tankers’ Perilous Straits of Hormuz: Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Things aren’t all that rosy when it comes to the tanker market these days. Besides the issues surrounding the long-term viability of older vessels, as a result of the new set of environmental restrictions, owners will have to think twice about which part of the sea world is currently risk-free.

In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Intermodal commented that “the Strait of Hormuz is one of the most important waterways in the world, connecting crude producers in the Middle East with key markets in the rest of the world. It also plays an essential role for the Asian economies that are dependent on oil imports from the Middle East. Even when considering that the daily flows of oil through the channel account for around 30 percent of all petroleum products, the Middle East has never been entirely safe. The recent tanker attacks have brought even bigger concern”.

According to Intermodal’s Tanker Chartering Broker, Mr. Apostolos Rompopoulos, “since May, six tanker vessels and one U.S. drone have been attacked near the Strait of Hormuz which is a strategically important waterway separating the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Iran. Fujairah, which is a trading center for refined products and crude is facing big challenges. War-risk premiums have increased significantly while freight rates remained more or less the same and as a result, oil tanker owners have started avoiding sending their ships to the region”.

One of the biggest ones, Frontline Ltd, even temporarily stopped trading from the Gulf. “We have people of every nationality and vessels of every flag transiting that crucial sea lane,” the chairman of the International Association of Tanker Owners, Paolo d’Amico, told the New York Times after the second attack. “If the waters are becoming unsafe, the supply to the entire Western world could be at risk. As a shipping company and part of the global shipping industry, we are taking the threat to our crew and ships very seriously,” Anthony Gurnee, chief executive of Ardmore Shipping, told CNBC this week. “At the moment, it is business as usual (but) insurance to transit the Strait of Hormuz has actually increased 10-fold in the last two months as a consequence of the attacks.” After the attacks, insurers start upping their premiums for tankers passing through the Strait of Hormuz and also oil prices spiked. Particularly, concerns regarding a possible military confrontation increased when Iran shot down a U.S drone and were further exacerbated after the US president’s tweet “Iran made a very big mistake!”. Following these we saw oil prices moving substantially up”, Intermodal’s analyst said.

Mr. Rompopoulos laid out 3 scenarios:
“The Optimistic Scenario, is for the Strait of Hormuz to be closed for only a few days. In this case, the impact on global oil supplies would be minimal; however, we would still probably see a brief spike due to the initial uncertainty surrounding its outcome. Crude prices would possibly fall back to pre-crisis levels. The capacity of pipelines and in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia should be effective in bypassing the Strait of Hormuz.

The Pessimistic Scenario, is for the Strait of Hormuz to be fully closed for the first 45 days, and straight-line resumption in oil tanker traffic over the next 45 days will lead to historically high crude oil prices on an inflation-adjusted basis for an extended period.

Finally, the Doomsday Scenario would be for the Strait to be closed for three-months. We cannot even imagine how high Crude oil prices would go and last but not least , they would not begin to fall back until the global economy collapses into deep recession”, Rompopoulos concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide