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Nippon Yusen K.K., Japan’s second-largest operator of dry-bulk ships, plans to more than triple its fleet of capesize vessels serving India because of demand for coal and iron ore in the world’s fastest-growing major steel market.

The shipping line expects to have 15 capesizes, so named because they are too big for the Panama or Suez canals, hauling the commodities to India by 2015, close to the fleet size currently serving China, Kazuo Ogasawara, general manager of its bulker group, said recently in Tokyo.

The company plans to expand its total capesize fleet to 120 from 95 by sometime between 2012 and 2013.

Indian imports of coal may surge nearly seven-fold to 200 million metric tons a year by 2015 as the growing economy drives demand for metal and electricity, Ogasawara said. The nation’s steel consumption may also jump 14 percent next year, compared with a 3.5 percent increase in China and a decline in Japan, according the World Steel Association.

“Crude steel output in India is set to surpass the level of Japan,” Ogasawara said Tuesday. “In addition, electricity demand is coming in.”

The shipping line is in talks with Indian steelmakers on long-term contracts, Ogasawara said, without elaborating.

It currently runs four vessels for Indian customers Tata Steel Ltd. and Tata Power Co.

India will likely use 68 million tons of steel next year, compared with 599 million tons in China, the world’s largest steel consumer, and 62 million tons in Japan, according to an Oct. 4 estimate by the World Steel Association.

Nippon Yusen will watch the market and the timing of port projects before deciding whether to place any new orders for ships, Ogasawara said. India needs to triple port capacity by 2020, Shipping Minister G.K. Vasan said at a conference in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Next year, about 200 capesize bulkers will be delivered globally, and capacity may outpace demand, Ogasawara said. Rates to hire capesizes that mostly haul iron ore and coal have dived 43 percent this year to $21,219 a day, according to the Baltic Exchange in London.

Fleet expansion has driven rents lower even as demand increased. Seaborne trade in coal and iron ore to make steel and generate power will rise 10 percent this year, according to London-based Clarkson PLC, the world’s biggest ship broker. At the same time, the fleet capacity pf capesize ships will grow 23 percent.

India, the third-largest iron-ore exporter, may also become a net importer, as domestic companies invest in overseas mines to secure adequate supplies, Ogasawara said.

NMDC Ltd., India’s biggest iron-ore producer, plans to buy a mine in Australia, its first overseas acquisition.

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