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Traders Use Iron Ore Carriers To Transport Coal As Energy Demand Rises



By Tsvetana Paraskova 

November 11, 2022 - Amid lackluster demand for iron ore in China, traders have started to use bulk carriers previously shipping iron ore on new routes to transport coal as the world grapples with an energy crisis and rising demand and prices of coal.  

Iron ore demand in China is weak this year amid a real estate crisis and snap COVID lockdowns. Last month, iron ore prices hit their lowest since November 2021, following a disappointing peak construction season in China, which showed that an expected recovery in steel demand failed to materialize. Iron ore futures enjoyed a seven-day rally over the past two weeks, but that rally came to an end on Thursday, when rising COVID cases and continued strict policies to manage the spread of infections in China weighed on the demand outlook of iron ore and steel. 

Faced with weak demand for iron ore from the top consumer, traders and miners have reduced iron ore shipments and reassigned ships to transport coal from Russia to Asia, and from Australia to Europe, shipbrokers, traders, and vessel owners told Bloomberg on Thursday.

Coal has made a comeback this year as the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent natural gas prices soaring and scared governments into looking at energy security and restarting coal-fired power generation.

Russia’s coal has been banned in Europe since August, and Russia is sending a lot of bulk carriers loaded with coal to Asia, mostly to China and India.

Europe, for its part, has boosted imports of coal from as far away as Australia, Colombia, and South Africa.  

China has ramped up its imports of coking coal, used in steelmaking, and of thermal coal for power generation from Russia in recent months as Beijing has been taking advantage of discounted cargoes of Russian energy products, including oil, LNG, and coal.

Combined imports of thermal coal and coking coal from Russia jumped by 20% year-on-year in September to nearly 7 million tons, customs data showed at the end of October.