This has occurred because pulp and wood panel production capacity has increased in regions with a lack of sufficient supply of domestic wood fibre at competitive costs, and between neighbouring countries when opportunities exist for mills to cross country borders in search of marginal wood fibre volumes.

This type of inter-continental trade flow can be seen between the US and Canada, Russia and Finland, and the Baltic States with the Nordic countries.

However, as much as 70% of the global chip trade is overseas with the major consuming countries being in Asia. This trade, valued at over US$4.5bn is handled by 145 vessels that are specially built for carrying wood chips.

The oldest chip vessels are from the 1980’s, but it is expected that within a few years the world’s entire woodchip fleet will be less than 20 years old, according to the wood chip ship-brokering firm Arc Chartering.

Looking ahead to 2017, the chip vessel fleet will not only be younger but will also contain fewer ships and the average ship will be bigger than in 2014.