very large crude carrier (VLCC)

Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC): any oil tanker 200,000 dwt (deadweight tonnage) and above. Which is further sub-categorized into Ultra Large Crude Carriers (ULCCs), vessels 320,000 DWT and above. There are currently approximately 500 VLCCs in operation, though a significant proportion of these ships are used for floating storage or have been converted Berkely boat sales.A VLCC. Source: Berkely boat sales. into Floating Production Storage and Offloading vessels (FPSOs).

Typically, VLCCs carry 2.1 million barrels of oil, the largest VLCC can carry approximately 3.1 million barrels.  VLCCs commonly carry more than one type or grade of crude oil; their hulls are separated into up to ten tanks, allowing for multiple loads and discharges.

Economies of scale and improved technology has led to the trend towards larger oil tanker sizes, reducing costs of transport and ultimately the price of crude oil. Equally, environmental disasters of these super-vessels can be potentially more catastrophic.

The carrying capacity of these vessels means they are of significant strategic importance, both economically and politically. Any disruption to the supply of crude oil via VLCCs can have significant implications on the worldwide crude oil spot market and more widely on the security of individual countries, energy and commodity markets.  As a result, key transit choke points are closely monitored by international authorities; this is particularly the case for points along VLCC routes including the Sumed pipeline, Strait of Hormuz and the Malacca Straits.

VLCC key trade routes are:-

Arabian Gulf to:  United States Gulf Coast, 
                          West Coast United States,
                          Northern Europe, 
                          Far East (China, Japan, South Korea).

West Africa to:   United States Gulf Coast,
                          United States West Coast, 
                          Northern Europe,
                          Far East (China, Japan, South Korea).

VLCCs are only able to transit the Suez Canal (northbound) if they partially discharge their cargo to the Sumed pipeline at Ain Sukhna  Pamir.Rotterdam oil terminal. Source: Pamir.Terminal in the Red Sea, Egypt and can then pick up an equal shipment at Sidi Kerir Terminal, Mediterranean Coast,  Egypt.

Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) is the only port in the United States that is able to discharge VLCCs’ cargo. Other terminals have to discharge their cargoes via offshore ship-to-ship transfer to smaller vessels for shuttles to other US ports, this is known as lightering.

VLCCs do not always solely carry crude, from 2007 there have been increasing instances where fuel oil has been transported on long-haul voyages, this has happened as a direct result of the rapid rise in the value of fuel oil as an internationally traded commodity. 

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