The last few weeks of 2018 were among the best of the entire year itself for northern European short sea owners as a long-delayed recovery in freight levels finally transpired and put owners in the position of power that they had been denied for most of the preceding eleven months. Trading volumes fell significantly over the holidays with nearly all market participants away from their desks and momentum taking freights over the transom of the no man’s land between years. With real trading resuming in earnest this week, the first full business week of the year, owners are hoping that any pressure that developed over the holidays will again be relieved as market fundamentals take over once again. Colder weather conditions will surely play a part with wind and ice-related delays slowing turnaround times and shortening general availabilities. At any rate, southbound traffic from WCUK into the Italian Adriatic has been holding steady with freights still in the low EUR 30s/mt on general parcels of 3-5,000mt. Northbound rates from the West Med to ARAG are fetching upwards of EUR 19/mt, but more likely to be in the EUR 17-18/mt unless charterers express some degree of urgency. There is a tangible sense of renewed optimism among owners in the North Sea and Baltic Sea trades that momentum will remain on their side, at least in these early days, though they are still in desperate need of evidence of the same before it starts to look like premature hope. The westward trades from the upper Baltic into the ARAG area are fixing low EUR 20s/mt of up to EUR 21-22/mt, which is quite an improvement on the mid-high teens of EUR 16-18/mt observed just a few weeks before. Rates from the German Baltic to Ireland have been recorded up to EUR 28.5/mt on generals of 3,000mt, but at least one broker claims the average rate on this business is more likely in the area of EUR 26.5-27.5/mt. All things being equal and based on the persistently stagnant fleet growth of the European market, any uptick in demand will most likely be immediately felt in rate levels. Owners are praying that such an uptick arrives as soon as possible.