Strong growth in regional shipping demand is prompting one of Hong Kong's largest operators to consider acquisition of up to 12 of the smaller bulk carriers known as 'tweendeckers.

International Maritime Carriers Ltd. is engaged in talks with a number of yards about the new vessels, though no firm orders have been made, Jagdish Seth, company director, said earlier this week."We'd like the capacity right now because of the growth in trade," he told The Journal of Commerce. "But we're still exploring who might build them."

``Tweendeckers, as their name suggests, have two independent decks for cargo, allowing them to carry many different types of load. They range from 10,000 to 20,000 deadweight tons and were popular in the 1960s and 1970s, though they've since fallen out of favor.

"Intra-Asian trade is growing as more and more countries improve their industry and their infrastructure. They need things like steel and machinery, which isn't suitable for containerization," Mr. Seth said.

IMC, as the carrier is known, is discussing construction with yards in Southeast Asia and China. 'Tweendeckers probably would cost a minimum of US$10 million each on a large order, meaning a total of at least US$120 million.

The line had its previous ships built in China, Japan and Europe. Mr. Seth said Japan is out this time - and Taiwan and South Korea are doubtful - because their yards "would rather build bigger ships for a quicker return."

Mr. Seth acknowledged that few yards are building 'tweendeckers these days, but believes the prospect of a sizable order could change minds. The strongest candidates so far are in Singapore, whose yards are booming, and Malaysia.

The line, a unit of IMC Holdings Ltd., operates 17 bulk carriers ships aggregating 567,000 dwt. With three on order, capacity will rise to 721,000 dwt. by late summer.

The parent company is primarily owned by the line's founder and chairman, Frank Tsao.

It has been adding ships steadily since a rundown in 1982 in anticipation of a recession in the industry. It acquired nine vessels in fiscal 1988, four in 1989 and three late last year, which falls in fiscal 1990.

Its fleet is generally young and well balanced, according to industry analysts, with four Panamax, two Handymax and 11 Handy-size.

A Panamax is the largest ship that can traverse the Panama Canal, roughly 60,000 dwt. Handy sizes range from 10,000 to 30,000 dwt.; Handymaxes from 30,000 to 45,000 dwt.

The line operates globally, but the Asia-Pacific region accounts for nearly half the cargoes carried, followed by North America (20 percent), Europe (15 percent) and South America (11 percent). Grain represents the largest single commodity, followed by ores, cement, coal, and iron and steel.

IMC has been in profit for all but two years since its founding in 1972. The exceptions in 1984 and 1985 arose from unrealized losses on revaluations of ships.

For the six months through last September, IMC turned in a profit of HK$239 million (US$30 million) including extraordinaries. That was an increase of 230 percent on the previous year; without non-recurring gains, the increase was 55 percent.

For all of fiscal 1989, income was HK$227 million.

Baring Securities (Hong Kong) Ltd. is forecasting a profit for the year through March 1990 of HK$378 million.