Skip to main content

BIMCO: tonne-miles from US coal exports halved over three years

Published by , Editor
World Coal,

Since 1Q13, the significance of US coal exports has seen a considerable setback, with 2016 achieving the same levels as 2009. This is due to the long-haul routes carrying metallurgical coal, from the US East Coast and US Gulf Coast to East Asia, are not operating to the same extent and the EU is demanding less thermal coal.

When BIMCO first published its story concerning US coal in 2013, US coal exports had the most significant coal trade in the world, measured by tonne-miles.


BIMCO’s Chief Shipping Analyst Peter Sand commented: ”In 2015, US coal exports generated 378 billion tonne-miles. This is only half the level of 2012, where it generated 715 billion tonne-miles.


This decrease in tonne-miles is a contributing reason to the current state of the dry bulk shipping market, as US coal trade was responsible for 14.8% of the world seaborne coal trade in 2012, but only 7.7% in 2015.

The tonne-miles multiplier indicating the average distance coal is being travelled has not changed particularly in that period and levelled around 6, since the peak in 2011. The unchanged multiplier emphasises that the diminishing tonne-miles are solely due to a reduction in volumes across the board.


This means that the long-haul routes from the US East Coast and US Gulf Coast to East Asia still operate, but not to the same extent as in 2012. However, they have decreased at the same amount as the rest of the US coal export trades”.



East Asian buyers accept sailing distance of 14,000 nautical miles



Metallurgical coal to East Asia has had the second lowest decrease of the US seaborne coal trades in transported cargo volumes, dropping 12% from 1H15 to 1H16. Metallurgical coal to East Asia is primarily exported from US East Coast and US Gulf Coast and it is the coal trade route from US with the longest sailing distance and thus generates the highest tonne-miles per tonne transported.


Therefore, any fluctuations in this trade influences the dry bulk shipping market the most. 40% of all coal exports from the US to East Asia came from the capesize-accommodating port in Baltimore Maryland, which emphasises that the East Asian buyers accept a very long distance of more than 14 000 nautical miles when they import coking coal from the US.


Chinese demand for US coal close to zero


Japan and South Korea are the importers that are keeping the East Asian tonne-miles high, as China has not imported any significant amount of coal from the US in the last two years. The tonne-miles generated from Chinese imported US coal is at its lowest level since 2009.


Sand added: “In 2012, the spikes in tonne-miles from East Asia was solely generated by Chinese coking coal demand. However, since 3Q14 the Chinese tonne-miles have been close to zero. This is due to China focusing on its regional suppliers and has, in the first three quarters of 2016, imported 84.1% of all coking coal from Australia and Mongolia and next to nothing from the US.”

He continued: “This is a large loss for the dry bulk shipping industry, as the Chinese coking coal demand is now covered by shorter sailing distances from Australia, compared to sourcing from US East Coast and US Gulf Coast, and coal transported by land from Mongolia.”



UK leads the slide as Europe declines


The European market is the overall main importer of both US thermal coal and metallurgical coal, based on transported cargo volumes. The coal exported from the US to the EU is down 38% for the first half of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015, but the EU is still claiming a 43% market share for 1H16 compared to 47% in 1H15. Despite this larger decrease – both measured on transported cargo volumes and percentage compared to East Asia – the effect is not as significant when the demand is measured in tonne-miles. This is due to the European demand for US coal being covered by exports from US East Coast and US Gulf Coast, where the sailing distances are substantially shorter than the coal exported from US to East Asia.

The coal exported from the US to the UK dropped by 2 million t from 1H15 to 1H16, a total decrease of 83%. This is the biggest decline for coal exported from the US to a single country. This is primarily due to the doubling of the UK carbon price floor (CPF), which has significantly increased the price of coal-fired energy production in the UK. Therefore, the US thermal coal exports to the UK are down 98% compared to the metallurgical coal export being down 63% for 1H16 compared to 1H15.

Read the article online at:

You might also like


Embed article link: (copy the HTML code below):


This article has been tagged under the following:

US coal news