Mideast demand especially strong due to refinery outages.
Rates for tankers carrying refined fuels like gasoline and diesel have soared this month as trade activity picked up and caused a supply crunch in ships, several shipbrokers and traders said.
The high rates indicate strong consumer fuel demand due to the persistently low crude oil prices that
have resulted from years of oversupply, refiners said.
"Our order books are pretty good. Whether it's gasoline for cars or diesel for industry, we're receiving calls to ship more fuel," said one shipper based in Singapore.
Rates for medium-range (MR) tankers carrying about 30,000 tonnes of oil products like gasoline, diesel or jet fuel, plying the benchmark Middle East to Japan route rose to around 155 points on the Worldscale rate, up 5 points from a week ago, said Rachel Yew, an analyst at OFE Insights.
Thomson Reuters Eikon data shows that rates for bigger tankers, around 75,000 tonnes, from the Gulf to Japan <CFRT-ME-JAP> have also soared, jumping from 88 Worldscale points in June to 120 points now, close to half-year highs.
U.S. rates to Amsterdam/Rotterdam/Antwerp (ARA) for ships over 38,000 tonnes <CFRT-USG-ARA> have risen from 67 points in early August to over 120 points.
Regional rates for shipping within the Gulf of Mexico have also soared <CFRT-USG-EMEX>, pushed up by tropical storm Harvey, currently heading for the U.S. Gulf coast..
Fuel demand has been strong across the globe, particularly in the Middle East, where refinery outages and peak summer demand are causing a spike in diesel imports. East Africa is also seeing strong demand growth.
This has made it more expensive to lure tankers away from those routes, shippers and traders said, causing tightness in the tanker fleet and pushing up rates.
"It's like when it rains and Uber
(taxi) prices go up in one location," a Singapore-based shipbroker said.
"It goes up for everybody looking for a ride, and it doesn't matter where you are," the broker said.
Rising Chinese fuel exports and higher jet fuel shipments from Asia to Europe are also pushing up demand for ships.
One of few exceptions on fuel demand is the United States, where gasoline consumption during the summer driving season has been lower than expected.
"U.S. gasoline demand remains sluggish," said investment bank Jefferies in its latest weekly note.
That has resulted in a surge in U.S. fuel exports to Europe and Latin America, however, pushing up Atlantic tanker rates, said Enrico Paglia of Italian ship brokerage Banchero
Reporting by Seng Li Peng and Jessica Jaganathan