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Tanker operator Heidmar cautious on new Middle East contracts amid tensions

Tanker pool operator Heidmar is exercising extreme caution towards any new shipping contracts in the Middle East in the backdrop of last week's attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman, the company said in an emailed statement late Monday.

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The company, which manages a global trading fleet of VLCCs, Suezmax tankers and Aframax or LR2 tankers, said it was focused on the safety of its seafarers in the Middle East.

This note of caution comes amid growing tensions in the Middle East that have prompted several shipowners to hold back on vessel charters to the region.

"Until such time as geopolitical tensions recede, Heidmar will exercise extreme caution when considering new contracts in the region and the company will consider all possible measures to ensure the safety of its partner's vessels," a company spokesman said.

"The company is consulting with regional security experts to ensure the safety of all crew, vessels and cargo. We continue to review every cargo on a case-by-case basis with the safety of life and the protection of the vessels a priority," he added.

Earlier Tuesday, media outlets reported that the US would send 1,000 more troops to the region in response to the alleged hostile behavior by Iran, which the US blames for the recent tanker attacks.

Shipbrokers said the market is focused on the impact on freight rates, with insurance premiums being reassessed. Immediately after the tanker attacks earlier this month, chartering activity fell sharply as owners were undecided on whether to accept Middle East bookings.

Owners and charterers have briefly halted activity as they look to assess the risk of events, as well as the gyration of oil prices due to the attacks, ship brokerage Charles R. Weber said in its report for the week-ended June 14. Risk in the area is certain to increase, but the effect on rates is yet to be determined, the brokerage added.

It said the Persian Gulf Suezmax market was the big question mark going forward as the recent attacks had pushed the Persian Gulf-West rates up 20 points since the incident, and rates had been stable until then.

"As one of our brokers has so eloquently put it, if in doubt, do nothing," Gibson Shipbrokers said in its weekly report.

"A strategy which it seems likely will be commonplace amongst the shipping community over the coming days. Nonetheless, the latest events without doubt do affect us all," it added.

Another shipbroker, Affinity Tankers, wrote that while VLCC and Suezmax rates had gone up after the incident, clean product tanker rates had dropped. "So it's all clear as mud."

"Last week's events have forced us to say something about Iran," Abudi Zein, CEO of shipping data provider ClipperData, said at an industry event in Singapore on Tuesday. "The risks of miscalculation are very high, and the reason we think that is, is because the two sides (US and Iran) don't know one another very well," he said.

At the moment, the next step is expected to be the US to send more troops to the Middle East, and that again increases the risk that somebody is going to miscalculate, Zein added.

-- Eric Yep, eric.yep@spglobal.com

-- Surabhi Sahu, surabhi.sahu@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Shashwat Pradhan, shashwat.pradhan@spglobal.com