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Economy of Scale? Not So Much for Vale SA’s 400,000 DWT Super Ore Carrier

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December 20, 2012
ore fabrica vale vloc brasil
The Ore Fabrica lighters the 400,000 DWT Vale Brasil’s cargo into the Capsize bulker, Ore Pantanal, both owned by Vale S.A. Image courtesy Bedeschi
Vale SA, the world’s biggest iron-ore exporter, may have paid about $158 million more for shipping in the past 19 months by using the largest available carriers rather than smaller vessels, according to Alphabulk.

The figure reflects the difference between how much it cost the company to use Valemaxes relative to Capesizes, the Paris- based maritime research company said in a report yesterday. Costs for the bigger ships were higher because of a slump in Capesize rates and restrictions that prevent Valemaxes berthing at ports in China, the largest iron-ore buyer. Vale declined to comment, in an e-mailed response to questions.

The company is spending $2.3 billion on 19 Valemaxes in a strategy to manage its shipping costs to Asia. Rio de Janeiro- based Vale also has a 25-year contract valued at $5.84 billion with STX Pan Ocean Co., a Seoul-based shipping firm, to haul its ore from Brazil. STX has ordered eight Valemaxes.

The first Valemax started trading in May 2011 and there are now 21 in the fleet, hauling a total of 17.1 million tons of ore, Alphabulk estimates. That’s the equivalent of 100 voyages on Capesizes. About 12.5 percent of iron ore from Brazil will be shipped on Valemaxes by the time all the ships ordered are operational next year, Alphabulk said.

35 Valemaxes

Vale will have 35 Valemaxes by the end of next year, each with a capacity of 400,000 tons, available for the transportation of iron ore, according to a Nov. 14 statement by the company. That will comprise 19 that it owns and 16 on long- term charters.

Vale would save $380 million a year, or $7 for each ton of ore carried, if it replaced the Valemax fleet with ships half the size, which would be able to call at 80 percent of all ports, Alphabulk said. The calculation assumes that China’s curbs on Valemaxes remain in place.

The miner’s shipping strategy is based on using the ships over a 30-year life span, while spot rates fluctuate, Arjun Batra, group managing director of Drewry Maritime Advisors, a research company, said by phone yesterday. The Valemaxes will help the company keep its freight costs from rising, which is its priority, he said.

– Michelle Wiese Bockmann, Copyright 2012 Bloomberg.
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