While no standardized system for the classification of oil tankers exists; the fleet is typically divided into four major categories based on carrying capacity. These categories are ULCCs and VLCCs, Suezmax, Aframax, and Panamax and Handysize tankers. To benefit from economies of scale charterers typically charter the largest possible vessel that can be accommodated in a particular voyages arrival and discharge ports. The four main categories of vessels are:
ULCCS (ULTRA LARGE CRUDE CARRIER) AND VLCCS (VERY LARGE CRUDE CARRIER)
These are the largest vessels in the world tanker fleet. They carry cargos of 200,000 dwt or greater and typically transport oil in long-haul trades mainly from the Arabian Gulf to Western Europe and the United States via the Cape of Good Hope and Asia. The large carrying capacity of ULCCs and VLCCs make them attractive to traders, however, this large size limits their access into some of the worlds ports.
Suezmax are midsized tankers with displacement between 120,000 and 200,000 dwt. Suezmax tankers offer the relative economies of scale that can be achieved with VLCCs; however, their slightly smaller size offers increased versatility and access to a majority of the world’s ports. Suezmax tankers primarily operate in the Atlantic Basin delivering cargoes from West Africa, the North Sea, and the former FSU.
Aframax vessels are mid-size tankers with displacement between 80,000 and 120,000 metric tons. Aframax vessels typically engage in medium to short haul oil trades in nearly all operating regions and can carry cargos of 80,000 to 120,000 dwt. Aframax tankers are just perfect for short to medium haul crude oil transportation. Aframax tankers are extensively used in areas of lower crude oil production such as in Non-OPEC countries which lack large harbors and canals to accommodate VLCC and ULCC class of tankers. Their main areas of operations include South American oil cargo exports to the US Gulf region through the Caribbean, North African exports to Southern Europe through Mediterranean, exports from former Soviet Union Republics to Northern Europe through the Black Sea and the North Sea, and South East Asian exports to the Far East. As Aframax vessels are mainly used in transporting crude oil, they are sometimes called ‘dirty tankers’.
PANAMAX AND HANDYSIZE
These tankers are primarily used for both the transportation of crude oil and petroleum products. Panamax tankers have displacement between 50,000 and 80,000 dwt and trade in short haul. Handysize tankers have displacement between 50,000 and 10,000 dwt. They primarily carry finished petroleum products as their smaller size makes them less economic for the transport of crude.
* Deadweight tonnage (dwt): expression of a ship’s carrying capacity, including the weight of the crew, passengers, cargo, fuel, ballast, drinking water, and stores