Unipec Seen Overtaking Shell as Largest Booker of Oil Tankers

China International United Petroleum & Chemical Co. became the world’s largest charterer of oil tankers for the first time in 2012, surpassing Royal Dutch Shell Plc, according to Poten & Partners Inc.

Unipec, as the Asian company is known, hired 707 vessels to carry 159 million metric tons of crude, a report by the New York-based shipbroker published Jan. 4 showed. Shell chartered 701 tankers to haul 73 million tons of cargo and oil trader Vitol Group was third, booking 463 ships to deliver 48 million tons, Poten said.

Unipec ranked 14th in chartering in 2007 and fifth three years later, according to Poten. The amount of cargo shipped by the Chinese company, the nation’s biggest oil trader, was more than double Shell’s deliveries in 2012 because Unipec led bookings of very large crude carriers, hiring more than the next four most active users combined, the report showed.

“Unipec has risen to the top of the ranks, on the back of a very active year chartering VLCCs, knocking perennial top charterer Shell from the top spot,” the shipbroker said.

Hiring by Unipec accounted for 7.2 percent of all tankers booked for single voyages, according to the report. Each VLCC can hold 2 million barrels of crude, twice as much as a Suezmax vessel. Shell is the largest European oil company.

The number of oil carriers reported as hired by Vitol and crude producers Total SA, BP Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp. climbed more than 20 percent from 2011, according to Poten, which gave no further details.

Tankers booked for single voyages, known as fixtures, rose 5 percent to 9,403, the shipbroker said. The gain was led by a 10 percent increase to 2,208 for Suezmaxes, reflecting increased loading of oil in the Caribbean and the Persian Gulf, the report showed. VLCC fixtures rose 5 percent to 2,089.

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