Carrying capacity: 140,000-170,000 t.
Common use: coal and iron ore; not economical for fertiliser and grain
Cape vessels are too large for the Panama Canal and many fertiliser/grain berths. When the demand for Cape vessels surged and then fell off, its effect on the freight market spilled over to vessels used for fertiliser and grain. A Cape vessel can replace two Panamax vessels.
Carrying capacity: 60,000-80,000 t – built to the Panama Canal’s maximum dimensions
Common use: coal, iron ore, fertiliser, grain and other bulk commodities
Panamax vessels have a maximum width of 32.3 meters (105 feet). To sail through the Panama Canal, they can only load to a maximum draft of 39.5 feet tropical fresh water. They are customarily used in deep draft ports like those in China.
Carrying capacity: 40,000-52,000 t.
Common use: coal, iron ore, fertiliser, grain, steel slabs and other bulk commodities
HandyMax vessels are similar to other vessels but designed for smaller loads and ports like those in Brazil where there are restrictions on length, draft and storage.
Global bulk trade is measured in ‘tonne-miles’, which are equal to shipping one tonne of product one mile. For example, shipping ten tonnes of potash 3,000 miles would require 30,000 tonne-miles. Vessel space is bought and sold like other bulk commodities and when demand exceeds supply the price goes up. Ocean freight rates, like other commodities, are affected by a number of intangibles.
The fleet size rises and falls as older vessels are scrapped and new ships are launched. In 2004, total fleet size was 327 million (mn) dwt, scheduled to increase with new capacity to 391 mn dwt by the end of 2007, with the addition of 40 mn dwt of Capsize, 16 mn dwt of Panamax and 17 mn dwt of HandyMax.