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UPDATE: IMO 2020 leads to sharp rise in European bunker premiums

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UPDATE: IMO 2020 leads to sharp rise in European bunker premiums

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Delivered-over-cargoes premiums widen

VLSFO gap closes on MGO at some ports

New York — European bunker premiums for delivered product over its respective upstream market have risen significantly on the back of IMO 2020, despite narrowing in the past week, S&P Global Platts data showed.

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At some ports, demand for IMO-complaint 0.5% bunker fuel has strained availability in the weeks running up and following IMO 2020 implementation, pushing premiums and costs higher than historic balances for 3.5% HSFO.

While 0.5% VLSFO bunker premiums in Rotterdam have softened on re-balancing demand from highs in October, they remain noticeably higher compared to last year's premiums for 3.5% HSFO.

The differential between 0.5% bunkers delivered Rotterdam over 0.5% FOB Rotterdam barges has averaged $13.66/mt in January so far, almost double the average of $7.28mt for 3.5% HSFO in January 2019.

HSFO was the marine fuel of choice prior to the new International Maritime Organization rule requiring ships to burn fuel with a maximum sulfur content of 0.5%, which came into force this year.

In the Mediterranean, an already wide premium has soared as a result of the marine fuel switch.

The differential between 0.5% bunker delivered Gibraltar and 0.5% marine fuel CIF Med cargoes averaged $90.38/mt in January so far, tripling from 3.5% HSFO's differential of $29.11/mt in January 2019.

Amid significant premiums in the Mediterranean along with pockets of tightness, there have been reports of 0.5% cargoes heading south to the Mediterranean from Northwest Europe, according to market sources last week.

The bullish pressure for 0.5% has narrowed the gap between VLSFO and marine gasoil, at some ports in the Mediterranean and this has led to some sources indicating price levels for 0.5% S FO above those of MGO.

This has been most pronounced at Istanbul, where the spread between 0.5% S FO delivered values and MGO delivered values was assessed Thursday at $7/mt, compared with $40/mt at Gibraltar and $24/mt at Rotterdam.

Soaring fuel costs

Likewise, prices for bunker fuels have risen 40% compared with a year ago due to higher refining costs for IMO 2020-compliant fuels as well as surging demand and busier barging schedules.

Platts assessed 0.5% S bunkers delivered Rotterdam at $511/mt Thursday, while 3.5% S was assessed $148/mt lower at $363/mt a year ago.

"Even given the recent narrowing of the spread, shipping companies are still faced with a massive uptick in fuel oil costs," the chief shipping analyst of shipowner body BIMCO, Peter Sand, said in a statement Thursday.

"[This] is set to affect operating margins in the upcoming quarters [as] many companies have little leeway to pass on the additional costs to their customers," Sand added

A shipowner said last week: "Fuel prices are killing us right now."