China's Zhejiang province has turned to Kazakhstan for thermal coal for the first time.
It has imported 136,000 tonnes of premium coal from the landlocked country in a shipment whose oceangoing leg involved a capesize bulker that made a 30-day voyage.
According to local news reports, Zheneng Fuxing Fuel made the shipment amid a nation-wide coal shortage and record prices.
The company is the shipping arm of Zhejiang Provincial Energy Group, which is controlled by the provincial government.
Zheneng Fuxing fixed the 178,000-dwt Caro (built 2010) to ship the coal from Russia's Port Kavkaz on the Black Sea to the Liuheng terminal in Zhejiang, eastern China.
According to Clarksons' database, the Caro is owned by Orion Reederei of Germany.
A Chinese dry bulk source said eastern China usually imports coal from Indonesia, Vietnam and Australia. It has never shipped coal from neighbouring Kazakhstan, as it is not economically efficient, since the cargo has to be transported by rail to a loading port in Russia before sailing to China.
The source believes Zheneng Fuxing has worked out its maths and found it more attractive to import coal from Kazakhstan in this instance, while China faces an energy crisis.
"China is already buying coal from the US but the voyage is much longer than that of Kazakhstan," the source said. "The coal from the Central Asia nation is also of better grade."
China is facing power outages due to a shortage of coal supplies, tougher emission standards and strong demand from manufacturers and heavy industries.
Beijing has refused to buy Australian coal, driving up its energy costs. The price of coal has shot up more than threefold from less than $60 per tonne early this year to more than $200 per tonne today.
China is also said to have shut down several coal-fired power plants to cut emissions.