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Recovery in the global economy has likely boosted seaborne trade and shipping volumes in 2010.
There have also been signs of recovery in some of the world's major bunkering ports.
Global marine fuel demand has "recovered to pre-2008 levels" and would likely reach about 370 million metric tonnes (mt) in 2010, according to Martin R. Tallet, President, EnSys Energy.
Taking into account anticipated growth in world trade and the shipping fleet versus measures to improve energy efficiency in the years ahead, Tallet said a "realistic" growth rate of 2% annually would push global bunker demand up to 450 million mt by 2020.
Singapore, the world's biggest bunker market, has already secured another record year for 2010.
The key European ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp have also reported rising overall throughput volumes, and in particular a recovery in container traffic. Container ships are among the biggest bunker buyers in these ports.
Despite port traffic increasing, however, bunker sales in Rotterdam are expected to fall for a third year in a row in 2010, according to projections from the port authority.
The Port of Rotterdam Authority has in recent years blamed falling bunker sales on fewer container ships bunkering in the port, but also on slow steaming implemented by several container ship operators in a bid to cut fuel consumption.
Several ship operators, in particular container lines, have said slow steaming will continue even if market conditions improve.
Container line giant Maersk Line believes shipping companies will remain under pressure to cut bunker consumption due to rising bunker prices, as well as reducing emissions due to environmental pressure from consumers. Slow steaming also helps to manage over-capacity in the market, which will see more newbuilds become available in the next few years.
"It was introduced during the economic crisis where there was a surplus capacity, but even in good times slow steaming makes good business sense to us," Jacob Sterling, Head of Climate and Environment in Maersk Line, told Bunkerworld in August.
"For Maersk Line, slow steaming is here to stay. It is better for our customers, for the environment, and for the business," Sterling said.
Robin Meech, Managing Director of Marine and Energy Consulting Ltd., told the Bunkerworld Business Exchange in November that he expected heavy fuel oil sales west of Suez to grow in 2011 after falling in 2009 and holding steady in 2010, although he did not expect the 2011 recovery to match 2008 volumes.
HFO sales east of Suez would also grow in 2011, Meech suggested, with most future growth for HFO sales focused in Asia.
Meech and others have suggested, however, that freight rates will be generally soft for a decade, meaning slow steaming to save on fuel "is likely to be with us for some time".
It has also been predicted that slow steaming - which has primarily been used in the container sector, will also become more prevalent for other types of ships to counteract the effect of high fuel prices and limited earnings potential.
Taking the above into consideration, the latest Bunkerworld poll asks:
Will global shipping and bunkering volumes increase in 2011?