Investors dipping into shipping stocks for the first time might feel like an overwhelmed fiancee being dragged before an eccentric family for a crash course in an unfamiliar culture. Fools looking to shippers as an ancillary play on the global commodities boom, may discover quite a learning curve to this sector's due diligence process.

While DryShips (NASDAQ:DRYS) is attracting far more attention from investors, Diana Shipping (NYSE:DSX) offers plenty of attributes to write home about, particularly an 8%-plus annualized dividend. In the latest quarter, Diana brought home the bacon with a 149% increase in net earnings year over year. That $53.2 million result was also a 46% sequential improvement on the fourth quarter.

Rates continue to rise at an impressive clip throughout the shipping industry, and Diana is no exception. The average daily charter rate per ship increased 66% from the year prior, to $45,191. Meanwhile, 95%-97% of revenue due for remaining operating days in 2008 has already been collected, and charter commitments continue to spread further into the future. In fact, one Capesize vessel that's under construction and not expected to launch until 2010 has already been chartered through 2015. This is a very strong indicator of the tightness in global supply of bulk carriers.

Another commodity in tight supply worldwide right now is credit, and recent reports indicate that many shipping companies with vessels on order are cancelling orders because of difficulties with financing. As banks increase rates and required deposits while shortening loan terms, many shippers are feeling the credit crunch very directly. With an estimated 10%-30% reduction of ship orders amid rising demand, charter rates should experience further upward pressure as a result.

For Fools careful to locate shippers with the best balance sheets, loan facilities, or other advantages (like prebooking), this emerging bottleneck in ship supplies can present a bulky investment opportunity. Iron ore companies like Vale (NYSE:RIO) and producers of multiple bulk products like BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP) will continue to need shippers to bring their products to market, and Diana Shipping is happy to oblige.

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