The New York Mercantile Exchange (search) will offer futures in the booming shipping market as early as late April, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.

China's rapidly growing thirst for petroleum, iron and coal as well as its growth in exports helped to almost triple the shipping futures market to $30 billion last year.

Traders use shipping futures, known as Forward Freight Agreements (search), to protect against changes in the cost of shipping commodities such as oil, coal and grain.

"It makes sense for exchanges that are already trading oil and coal to offer shipping because it is completely complementary with what they are already offering," said Axel Pierron, a researcher in France for advisory firm Celent.

Bottlenecks in shipping routes such as the Panama and Suez canals mean shipping rates can rise and fall quickly. "Shipping futures are a new way for hedging risk for commodities traders," Pierron added.

He said the shipping futures market could increase by 70 percent this year.

The NYMEX, the world's largest energy bourse, will compete in the shipping futures market with Oslo's International Maritime Exchange (search).

"We're aiming for early in the second quarter," said the NYMEX spokeswoman.