* Freight rates climb after BHP-led charter flurry
* Tight tonnage supply bolsters capesize freight rates
By Keith Wallis
SINGAPORE, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Freight rates for capesize bulk carriers could hold around current levels after reaching their highest in more than eight months this week following a surge of fixtures by Australian miners, ship brokers said.
Rates from Australia to China were around $7.50 per tonne on Thursday, while a voyage from Brazil to China paid around $16 per tonne, Singapore and Shanghai capesize brokers said.
While capesize rates felt softer on Thursday, prices are being supported by tight tonnage supply in both the Atlantic and Pacific, brokers said.
There were about six capesize vessels available for charter in the Atlantic with up to eight ships charter-free in the Pacific, a Shanghai capesize broker said.
Ship brokers had expected rates to soften this week, but they rose by more than $1 per tonne after a raft of deals by BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Cargill as China rebuilt its iron ore stocks, shipping sources said.
A decline in port stocks suggested steel mills have boosted production ahead of production cuts to ensure clean air in Beijing next month for the World War II parade, Australian bank ANZ said in a note on Thursday.
"A large amount of cargo volume has been fixed in the last two-and-a-half days," a Singapore capesize broker said on Thursday, with each capesize capable of carrying 170,000 tonnes of iron ore.
BHP Billiton chartered between 12 and 20 ships this week, against one last week, paying between $7.60 and $7.75 per tonne for five of the charters, according to the Singapore broker and Reuters chartering data.
Charter rates for the Western Australia-China route were around $7.66 per tonne on Wednesday, compared with $6.40 per tonne a week ago, and the highest since Nov. 27.
Rates for the Brazil-China route climbed to $16.41 per tonne on Wednesday, compared with $16 per tonne last week, the highest since Dec. 4.
Freight rates for smaller panamax vessels will likely continue to slide on reduced cargo volumes, a Singapore-based panamax ship broker said on Thursday.
Rates for a transpacific voyage dropped to $6,121 per day on Wednesday, compared with $7,183 per day a week earlier, the lowest since July 1.
Freight rates for smaller supramax vessels climbed this week with around $9,000 per day paid for Asian spot cargo, brokers said on Thursday.
The Baltic Exchange's main sea freight index rose to 1,222 on Wednesday, from 1,104 a week earlier, and is expected to rise to 1,254 in a week, technical analysis shows. (Reporting by Keith Wallis; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)