Booming spot rates for capesize bulkers may prompt charterers to start using panamaxes as a cheaper alternative to carry commodities, according to brokers. The capesize 5TC, a spot-rate average weighted across five key routes, on Thursday came in at $74,176 per day after losing $610 per day, according to Baltic Exchange data. The panamax 5TC, by comparison, reached $36,119 per day after shedding $216 per day.

Instances of charterers hiring two panamaxes instead of one capesize are “still limited” despite the rate disparity, according to Derek Langston, head of research at UK-based brokerage house Simpson Spence Young. “In addition, the Atlantic basin feels over-tonnaged in the panamax sector, so limiting the upside in the immediate term,” he told TradeWinds. “The Pacific provides the main upside potential for panamaxes with stem splitting starting to appear at the end of September.”

Chiba Shipping has fixed the 84,790-dwt MG Kronos (built 2016) to Cobelfret at $40,000 per day for a 2 October voyage from China to South Korea via New Zealand with the intention to carry coal. Brokers said they are not aware of capesize stems being split into panamaxes yet, but the idea is getting thrown around in the market. “It’s also worth noting that besides the economic calculations, the logistics of what cargo sizes receiving terminals are prepared for and expecting can also be an issue,” one broker said.

Spot rates for capesizes have climbed steadily from $40,518 per day on 8 September to levels not seen in many years amid high demand and tight supply exacerbated by port congestion. More than 2,400 bulkers — 21% of the global fleet — are at anchorage awaiting berths worldwide, according to VesselsValue. “Demand for commodities has surged post-Covid as economies invest in growth and infrastructure, and the use of iron ore and coal are required for steel production,” it said. Port congestion is “especially high” around Chinese import hubs, such as Shanghai, Qingdao, and Tianjin, VesselsValue added. “A quarter of all congested bulkers are concentrated in the East China Sea and Yellow Sea regions, waiting to discharge their cargoes.”