China will build more oil tankers to meet the demand from rising imports and reduce its dependence on foreign carriers, a senior official of the Ministry of Communications has said.
Peng Cuihong, counsel to the ministry's water transport department, said the current size of the transport fleet falls way short of import needs.
The country imports more than 130 million tons of oil each year, about 90 percent of which is transported by ship. But domestic tankers shipped only 16 percent of the oil in 2006, according to the Institute of Comprehensive Transportation (ICT) affiliated to the National Development and Reform Commission.
This has made China, the world's second largest importer after the United States, vulnerable to transportation costs and other uncertainties such as war.
"To ensure oil security, Chinese tankers should account for at least 60 percent of the oil imports' transport capacity," said Luo Ping, a researcher with the ICT on maritime transport.
Peng declined to reveal how many oil tankers will be built but there has been speculation that the ministry has fast-tracked the building of 90.
Lu Jing, a professor at Dalian Maritime University, said the ministry had recently asked shipping companies to "explore" the oil tanker market.
"Even companies like China Changjiang National Shipping Group Corporation, which used to focus on inland water transportation, have been encouraged to shift focus to ocean-going oil transport," Lu said.
A typical large oil carrier, the 300,000-tonneage very large crude carrier (VLCC), is about 300 meters long, as tall as a 10-story building and can cost US$100 million to build.
Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company, which does not have a long history of building such tankers, said it had received more than 20 orders from both home and abroad, and its construction schedule is packed till 2009.
"We have heard that some new VLCCs are hitting the water for a test," Lu said.
"In the past, it was unfeasible and unthinkable to build so many 300,000-tonnage tankers because we didn't even have enough wharfs for these huge vessels." Now, Ningbo, Dalian and Qingdao have deep-water oil ports to accommodate large tankers, he said.
(China Daily June 14, 2007)