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China's exports fell 1.8 percent in 2015, while its imports tumbled 13.2 percent. The Baltic Dry Index, which measures the cost of shipping coal, iron ore, grain and other non-oil commodities, has fallen 76 percent since August and is now at a record low. Shipping rates for Asia-originated routes have dropped, too, and traffic at some of the region’s major ports is falling. In Singapore, the world’s second-largest port, container traffic fell 8.7 percent in 2015, the first decline in six years. Volumes at the port of Hong Kong, the fourth-busiest, slid 9.5 percent last year. Beyond Asia, the giant port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands recorded a dip in containerized traffic for the year.
Globally, orders for new vessels dropped 40 percent in 2015, to $69bn, according to London-based consulting firm Clarksons Research. The demolition rate for unwanted vessels jumped 15 percent.
Just a few years ago, as the global economy improved and oil prices rose, many companies ordered more fuel-efficient ships. There were more than 1,200 orders for bulk carriers that transport iron ore, coal, and grain in 2013, compared with just 250 last year, according to Clarksons. Many of the ships ordered are now in operation, says Tim Huxley, chief executive officer of Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings, a Hong Kong-based owner of bulk carriers and tankers. “You have a massive oversupply,” he says.
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