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Thursday, May 14, 2009

 

singapore harbor


of the many facets of this disaster, for me one of the most fascinating is the unbelievable collapse in global trade. the world that is now passing (at least for the moment) was one dominated by the idea of globalization, founded on the precepts of cheap transport across all boundaries. most people changed, i think, their perception of the planet radically during this time -- it seemed, as it sometimes does in fits of hubris, as though the world were small.

but it is not small. nor are these boats, a now-idled lane of the superhighway of intercontinental trade.

the new york times depicts the world from what is for most americans the unusual vantage point of singapore.

One of the largest fleets of ships ever gathered idles here just outside one of the world’s busiest ports, marooned by the receding tide of global trade. There may be tentative signs of economic recovery in spots around the globe, but few here.

Hundreds of cargo ships — some up to 300,000 tons, with many weighing more than the entire 130-ship Spanish Armada — seem to perch on top of the water rather than in it, their red rudders and bulbous noses, submerged when the vessels are loaded, sticking a dozen feet out of the water.

So many ships have congregated here — 735, according to AIS Live ship tracking service of Lloyd’s Register-Fairplay in Redhill, Britain — that shipping lines are becoming concerned about near misses and collisions in one of the world’s most congested waterways, the straits that separate Malaysia and Singapore from Indonesia. ...

More worrisome, despite some positive signs like a Wall Street rally and slower job losses in the United States, is that the current level of trade does not suggest a recovery soon, many in the shipping business say.

“A lot of the orders for the retail season are being placed now, and compared to recent years, they are weak,” said Chris Woodward, the vice president for container services at Ryder System, the big logistics company. ...

So badly battered is the shipping industry that the daily rate to charter a large bulk freighter suitable for carrying, say, iron ore, plummeted from close to $300,000 last summer to a low of $10,000 early this year, according to H. Clarkson & Company, a London ship brokerage.

The rate has rebounded to nearly $25,000 in the last several weeks, and some bulk carriers have left Singapore. But ship owners say this recovery may be short-lived because it mostly reflects a rush by Chinese steel makers to import iron ore before a possible price increase next month.


on that, see ft alphaville today -- an anomalous event and not indicative of any upturn in china, apparently.

Container shipping is also showing faint signs of revival, but remains deeply depressed. And more empty tankers are showing up here.

The cost of shipping a 40-foot steel container full of merchandise from southern China to northern Europe tumbled from $1,400 plus fuel charges a year ago to as little as $150 early this year, before rebounding to around $300, which is still below the cost of providing the service, said Neil Dekker, a container industry forecaster at Drewry Shipping Consultants in London. ...

These vessels total more than 41 million tons, according to the AIS Live tracking service. That is nearly equal to the entire world’s merchant fleet at the end of World War I, and represents almost 4 percent of the world’s fleet today.

Ships are anchoring at other ports around the world, too. There were 150 vessels in and around the Straits of Gibraltar on Monday, and 300 around Rotterdam, the Netherlands, according to the AIS Live tracking service.

But Singapore, close to Asian markets, has attracted far more.

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