Bangalore: Six top firms from South Korea, the world’s biggest shipbuilding nation, two from China and one from India are competing for a contract estimated at $540 million (Rs2,554 crore) to build four so-called super tankers, or large crude carriers, for the state-run Shipping Corp. of India Ltd (SCI).

SCI will now shortlist the technically qualified applicants who can submit price bids for the contract. A spokesman for SCI declined to comment on the tender.

Godspeed: Desh Viraat is one of the super tankers owned by SCI. In the wake of the economic slowdown, shipbuilders are desperate to grab orders, with each super tanker costing around $135 million to build

Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd, Samsung Heavy Industries Co. Ltd, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Co. Ltd, Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries Co. Ltd, STX Shipbuilding Co. Ltd and Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Co. Ltd—all six from Korea—have submitted initial technical bids for the contract, a person familiar with the tendering process said requesting anonymity.

China’s Dalian New Shipbuilding Heavy Industries Co. Ltd and Jiangsu Eastern Shipyard have also bid for the contract.

India’s newest private sector shipbuilder, Pipavav Shipyard Ltd, is the lone participant from the country.

The tender closed on 15 November.

In 2006, China surpassed Japan to become the world’s second largest shipbuilder and aims to overtake South Korea to become the biggest by 2015.

In a market where new shipbuilding orders have dried up in the wake of the global financial crunch and slower demand for moving goods, shipbuilders are desperate to grab orders.

“Everybody is trying to get an order," said an official at Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world’s top shipbuilder, who asked not to be identified.

Slower demand for transporting goods has pulled down ship hiring rates. This, in turn, has led to a drop in ship prices, industry analysts say.

For instance, the cost of building a super tanker has declined to around $135 million from a high of $160 million in August.

A super tanker currently fetches a day rate of around $55,000 for its owner when rented out for a year.

Oil refiners are now seen favouring very large crude tankers to haul crude to cut transportation costs as larger quantities can be shipped at a time.

India is heavily dependant on imported crude for its energy requirements. Of the country’s annual requirement of about 150 million tonnes (mt) of crude oil, about 110mt, or 75%, is imported.

SCI, India’s biggest ocean carrier, currently owns and operates three super tankers, and a fourth will join the company’s fleet in June 2009.

The company is looking to buy four more to strengthen its position in the energy transportation sector.