In October 2019, spot VLCC earnings soared above $300,000 per day following an alleged attack on an Iranian tanker in the Middle East.

Those days are long gone.

Crude tanker rates have barely moved despite a fatal attack on a Zodiac Maritime-operated product tanker and a separate vessel hijacking incident in the Gulf of Oman recently.

The Baltic Exchange estimated spot VLCC earnings for the Middle East Gulf-China route at -$4,691 per day on Wednesday, compared with -$5,103 per day last Friday.

Physical deals for the trade have been reportedly fixed at a narrow range between Worldscale 31.25 and WS 31.5 for cargoes scheduled to be lifted later this month.

Average suezmax earnings fell to -$4,288 per day from -$3,273 per day, while aframax increased to $682 per day from $5 per day.

Gibson Shipbrokers research head Richard Matthews said tensions in the Middle East have not affected tanker markets “at all”.

“Most rates have remained stable with any fluctuations driven by supply/demand dynamics,” he added.

Tanker experts said the spike seen nearly two years ago resulted from buoyant seasonal demand, the IMO 2020 switch, and the temporary removal of large tonnage due to US sanctions.

In contrast, the current market is plagued by limited scrapping, continued newbuilding deliveries, and oil demand weakness amid renewed Covid-19 outbreaks in Asia.

“Halfway into the first week of August and the summer doldrums continues,” shipbroker Fearnleys said in a note.

“Fundamentals show little change, and the supply/demand equation will take a time to balance.”

Industry experts said tanker owners could face higher insurance premiums and need to enhance security measures in the Middle East, with limited prospects of recovering incremental expenses from the freight market.

“Sadly, there are too many vessels,” said a shipowner.

ClipperData’s commodity research director Matt Smith described the recent incidents as “isolated” and “symbolic”.

“[They] won't change oil flows unless we see a significant ramp up in incidents,” Smith said. “We have been seeing such sporadic incidents over the last few years.”