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Analysis of Technical and Economic Viabilities and Strategies of Second Hand LNG Carriers

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  1. Introduction – Some Facts About LNG

The majority component of LNG is Methane and natural gas is chilled to minus 2600 F and kept in a fluid state at approximately three and halt psig in isolated tanks.  By liquidizing the natural gas will shrink it down to 1/600 of its vaporised quantity, thereby facilitating it to transport easily by specially designed LNG carriers or ships. The Liquid vaporises fastly, when the same is released into the atmosphere. There is no explosive danger from unconfined gas, but it may turn into flame when assorted in concentration of five to fifteen percent with air. (Sharke 2004:29).

LNG is considered to be fuel of the future. It has many advantages and some of them are listed below:

  •  LNG specialty is that it has lower air emissions as compared to other fossil fuels like coal or oil. (Sempra LNG 2009).
  • Present domestic coal power manufacturing plants manufacture about 2 ½ times more carbon emissions on a lifecycle basis than that of LNG.
  • It has been observed that, even if the cleanest technologies were seemed to offer only about seventy percent more lifecycle emissions than LNG.(Center for LNG February 2009)

Where distances or volumes do not rationalise the building up of liquefying facilities or construction of pipelines, transportation of “compressed natural gas” makes justification, especially for recovery of stranded gas or for short routes.  For entrancing the natural gas from offshore oilfields, CNG ships can be used where the precious gas resources might have else been allowed to go in as flares in the previous years. According to the “American Bureau of Shipping”, there already exist many theoretical inhibition system designs for CNG ships. In LNG ships, the gas is stockpiled in a compressed form and kept as cool in tiny pressure carriers, where it continues to be in a vaporised form. (Sharke 2004:29).

LNG Ships or carriers offer the connection between the LNG Chain between the production centers and its usage centers.  Currently, there are over 1,500 LPG ships, which are plying around the globe, most of which carry the LPG. There are about 346 LNG carriers presently involved in LNG business on the international level. 

In this research essay, I am going to deliberate why second hand LNG ships should be acquired by evaluating its technical and economical strategies in detail.

  1. Analysis

2.1 Technical specifications of LNG Ships

 An ideal contemporary LNG ship is about 975 feet or 300 meters long, about 140 feet or 43 meter wide and has a draft of approximately 39 feet or 12 meter. Generally, LNG carriers differ in cargo capacity from just 1000 m3 to 267,000 m3. However, modern LNG vessels are having the cargo capacity between 125,000 m3 and 150,000 m3.  In Japan and Norway, smaller LNG carriers also operate with cargo capacity of 1000 to 25,000 m3. In open waters, LNG ships are capable of having a maximum speed of 21 knots. (GIIGNL Technical Study Group 2009).

Approximately, about 346 LNG ships are in operation as of today with about 46 ships are in the pipeline as per the details given in the table below:

Current Status of LNG Carrier Fleet by Type as on 5 March 2010

Table I:

LNG Carrier Fleet by Type
TYPE Delivered On Order Total
Ship 337 35 372
FSRU 2 2 4
FPSO 0 4 4
RV 7 3 10
Total 346 44 390

Source: LNG Shipping Solutions & LNG Unlimited, 5 March 2010).

The majority of LNG carriers which are in operation as of today have been proposed to carry LNG either in geometric membrane tanks (membrane design) or in spherical tanks. (Moss Sphere design).

Pictures -Example of LNG Carrier Types

Picture 1: Top Membrane type of vessel

Analysis of Technical and Economic viabilities and Strategies of Second Hand LNG Carriers

Source: BV 2009

Picture 2:  Moss Sphere Design

Analysis of Technical and Economic viabilities and Strategies of Second Hand LNG Carriers

Source: BV 2009

2.2 Floating Storage and Regassification Units (FSRU)

Modern technology may also be used to operate as “floating storage and regassification units” (FSRUs), particularly in offshore terminals. On-board regassification facilities are operated by LNG carriers in the US, UK, Brazil and Argentina. Over traditional on-shore liquefaction, FSRU provides many advantages. Compared to on-shore liquefaction, it is more effective. In addition, considerable time and money spent on onshore/onsite construction and construction of shipyards can be avoided. “NIMBY” issues are also addressed by FSRU technology, and there is less exposure to terrorism and conflict. Through the redeployment process, owners may achieve greater flexibility. Furthermore, FSRU provides markets with a shorter stage than on-shore regassification plants. (2009 Gerdsmever).

Picture 3: Floating Storage and Regasification Units (FSRU)

Analysis of Technical and Economic viabilities and Strategies of Second Hand LNG Carriers

Picture 4: Shuttle and Regasification Vessel (SRV)

LNG Carriers ship

Source: Hoegh LNG

Both carriers of LNG must have double hulls. LNG is transported in specially designed sealed tanks near the air pressure, which is referred to as the “cargo containment system” situated within the inner hull. The construction and installation of LNG ships are stipulated by universal codes. In the codes that vary for the form of freight that the carrier will transport, additional and extra foreign protection standards are set out. All commercial LNG vessels must be registered with at least one of the countries recognised as “Flag State”. 

2.3 International and Local Regulatory Needs for LNG Vessels

Both relevant foreign and local regulatory needs, including those of the International Code of Gas Carriers (IGC), the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the US Coast Guard, must be fulfilled by LNG carriers (USCG).

In relation to the International Protection Management Code (ISM), the IGC, and the General Agreement on Educational Requirements for Qualification and Watching (STCW), both flag states follow the International Maritime Organisation Regulations. Furthermore, in addition to foreign codes, the flag state in which the LNG carrier is registered can enforce further specifications.

There is a ranking society in the maritime sector, which is a non-governmental association (NGO) that functions as an important part of the industry and is often referred to as’ class.’ It defines and retains specifications for the construction and classification of vessels and offshore installations in compliance with technical rules to confirm that the measurements and designs conform with certain regulations and to carry out surveys of ships and structures during the construction and commissioning process of LNG ships. Classification societies conduct annual surveys on vessels in service to ensure that they continue to comply with the legislation and codes necessary. It should be remembered that all insurance providers stipulate that LNG vessels are ‘classified’ and that no LNG vessels are permitted to sell or operate without insurance. ( 2009 GIIGNL).

For LNG vessels, marine quality assurance is being offered through the process of vetting, which evaluates the vessel’s quality against a known criterion to assess its acceptance for usage. Shipping companies are usually carrying out the vetting either by using their own employees or through an independent contractor on their ships owned as well as ships chartered by them. (McGuire & White 2000).

Clearly, by taking into consideration the very minor past event / disaster of the sector, shipping protection and safety for LNG vessels is preserved at a high standard. LNG carriers have sailed over a hundred million nautical miles without a significant accident resulting in cargo loss and without a shipboard death due to an LNG crash, as per the latest MSNBC article. (2009 MSNBC U.S).

The LNG shipping industry has an outstanding safety record. On a daily commercial basis, the first cargo of LNG was delivered in 1994. To date, over 45,000 commercial shipments have been conducted without a single incident of any significant crash affecting the carrier’s failure. Though, there have been four major grounding incidents, but there had never been a loss of cargo. The main reason for no loss of cargo is because of robust design of cargo tanks and the ships itself and in general, global LNG industry is paying special attention to safety requirements, which have acted as a safeguard to bar the release of cargo in case of grounding. (Foss 2003).

Thus, the excellent safety records of LNG shipping industry can be attributed to the industry’s rigorous operating standards and stringent design practices supported and enhanced by robust regulatory oversight.

2.4 Spillage Hazards of LNG

LNG warms more rapidly when spilled into water than it would on land, and it will produce a steam swarm or cloud. Though the vapor swarm not lethal in nature, it could suffocate humans by preempting the air. If it connects with an ignition source, it can also blaze along with its foremost frame. (Hightower et al. 2004)

In water spills, a pool blaze can happen where the LNG stretches fastly over the surface of the water. The fire devours massive quantum of fuel just in seconds if it is ignited. (Sharke 2004:25).

2.5 Increasing Demand for LNG

LNG is preferred as a viable energy by many nations around the world due to the fact that it takes up a tiny proportion of space than natural gas which makes transportation of LNG easier and convenient. One cubic foot of LNG is made from six hundred cubic feet of natural gas. In places where there are no apt geologic conditions that are suitable for extending underground gas storage facilities,  LNG has offered the best opportunity to store natural gas more economically.  The natural gas is saved in a liquid form at what are known as “peak-shaving facilities” for the usage during peak-demand phases. It is stored in a liquid stage, and it is regassified when there is high demand and the same is distributed through pipelines to consumers. (www.lngfacts.org).

In January 2010, Taiwan’s LNG imports rose by 90 per cent relative to January 2009. Taiwan imported nearly 691,000 tonnes of LNG during 2010 compared to 469,000 tonnes of LNG imported during 2009, according to the Bureau of Energy Statistics. Taiwan imports LNG from Malaysia, Indonesia and Qatar and two spot container shipments from Trinidad and Nigeria should be noted. (Lngunlimited, 2010 March 5:1).

Simon Cattle, BP’s Head of Production and Trading, visualises that European LNG imports are likely to rise by approximately 100% in 2020 from the current amount of over 170 billion cubic metres in 2010, which accounts for approximately 25% of the overall supply of European gas, and anticipates that the UK will overtake Spain as Europe’s largest buyer and importer of LNG. (March 5, 2010:3, Lngunlimited).

About 64 million American households use natural gas as fuel for their houses. If the supply of LNG is interrupted, it can impact millions of Americans’ livelihoods. If further LNG imports are exploited by the United States, so there would be less strain on the costs to be charged to buyers of gas in America. It would also minimise the effect on American consumers and business and lower demand on oil costs. (www.lngfacts.com). This is

2.6 The World’s Big LNG Providers

Qatar is in the midst of making the Gulf the main hub of the LNG industry in the country. Libya and Algeria regard their long-term economic

priorities to be the development of natural gas.

The output potential of Oman LNG is projected at about 10 mt/y and its Qalhat LNG is reported to have entered into “National Offshore Oil Corporation of China”

 sales agreements.

The output potential of Algeria is about 17.6mt / y. The Algerian government has set a mark to raise its output of natural gas to 28.7 mt/year by 2012.

The main LNG producers in Egypt are Egyptian LNG (ELNG) and the Spanish Egyptian Gas Business (Segas).

Since it is possible that the economic crisis will end in a reduced aggregate of energy consumption and thus its brunt on the global LNG trade remains ambiguous, the global economic recession may serve as an obstacle for LNG industry growth plans. Gas prices in the world’s two biggest markets, South Korea and Japan, have fallen sharply during the last half of 2009, owing to the global economic crisis, from $ 20 per million Btu (British Thermal Units) in August 2009 to $ 9.15 / m Btu by December 2009. Analogous decreases have also been seen in the fast-developing economies such as India and China, but are expected to be reversed in the long-term

2.7 Current Status on Chartering of LNG Vessels

LNG ships which are crucial links linking consumers and producers in the so-designated LNG “value sequence “are expected to nurture in retort to the enlarging requirement for LNG. LNG ships are ranked by quantity since the consignment itself has such a very small relative density.

Mitsui OSK Lines has informed that it has entered into charter agreement for two of its uncommitted LNG vessels to the PNG LNG project.  MOL’s two LNG vessels namely Abdelkader and Ben Badis each having a capacity of 177,000 –cbm ships will start their maiden long-term charters from 2013 onwards. Mitsui company sources also informed that it will search for short-term business arrangements before the above vessels commence their long-run charters with PNG. (Simic Net 2010).

2.8 Future demand for LNG Carriers

The Qatar government has constructed its present economic bang on the footage of their vast “natural gas reserves” , especially through their two major LNG companies namely Ras Laffan LNG Company ( RasGas) and Qatar LNG company (Qatargas) , both of these companies s major portion of shares are held by Qatar Petroleum .(QP). (Ford 2009:50).

For supplies to be made from Qatar in the near future,  about sixty LNG carriers are needed for transporting of LNG from Qatar to US  and Europe market as per details given below;

Qatargas II is in need on additional sixteen LNG carriers for their QGII trains four and five.  The production of natural gas in these trains has already started as early as 2008.LNGhas to be transshipped from Qatar to UK.  RasGas II is in need of additional 8 numbers of CLNG vessels for their RG train 5 and supplies will be transported to US market.  Further,  about three or four further large trains is envisaged to commence LNG production by 2010/2011 and each train will be requiring about a dozen  “Q-Flex “ carriers for delivery to US market. (Curt 2004).

Picture 5:

LNG Carrier Al Wajbah – The 135,000 m3 carrier was built in 1997 and is one of the 10 carriers being used in the Qatar –Japan LNG project. Japan is solely relying on LNG imports to generate power for its requirements.

Chinese’s government ship building company has decided to go for three new sizes of LNG ships of 160,000 cbm, 175,000 cbm and 220,000 cbm. The main objective is to cater “mounting demand for LNG carriers as the global economy gets on its track to recovery. The China is keen to develop more technically demanding vessels. China’s LNG buyers are insisting that home built vessel will be used in the long-term purchase contracts that are signed.

China is expected to double its LNG imports to 12 million tonnes in the year 2010 from the 5.53 million imported in 2009 as during this year, new terminals like Shanghai LNG started its operations. (China Daily 2010).

The future LNG demand could increase by another sixty seven percent to 20 million tonnes in the year 2011 if PetroChina’s two terminals in Dalian and Jiangsu starts its production as scheduled. Of the aggregate anticipated this year, about 2.7 million tones will be sourced from the spot cargoes this year which China will purchase from the market during the second quarter.

Chinese National Energy Administration promised that China would hasten up the construction of LNG infrastructures and terminals, especially in the east and the south, in an effort to alleviate domestic gas scarcity. The Chinese administration also urged the Chinese LNG buyers to sign long term purchase contracts to cash in on the present international supply glut.

While China is obviously gas-thirsty, it has already demonstrated that it is not ready to show wait around for LNG or ready to pay a top dollar, as evidenced by PetroChina’s verdict to cancel its 3 million TPA heads of agreement with the delayed Australian Browse LNG project. (LNG Unlimited 12 February 2010).

2.9 Commercial Viability of LNG Shipping Business

Table 2

Top 40 Producers
U.S. Natural Gas Production – MMcf/day –   Year to Year Comparison
Includes Alaska
Second Quarter
2009 2008 Change
1 BP 2,339 2,140 199
2 Anadarko 2,336 1,869 467
3 XTO Energy (Cross Timbers Oil) 2,352 1,795 557
4 Chesapeake Energy 2,245 2,143 102
5 Devon Energy 2,129 1,940 189
6 ConocoPhillips 2,095 2,132 -37
7 Encana 1,581 1,629 -48
8 Chevron 1,395 1,588 -193
9 ExxonMobil 1,243 1,317 -74
10 Williams Energy (Barrett Res.) 1,180 1,110 70
11 EOG Resources 1,139 1,139 0
12 Royal Dutch Shell plc 1,056 1,096 -40
13 Southwestern Energy Co. 815 487 328
14 Apache 663 759 -96
15 Occidental 621 602 19
16 El Paso Energy 597 653 -56
17 Newfield Exploration 497 480 17
18 Ultra Petroleum 467 359 108
19 Questar Corp. 422 393 29
20 Petrohawk Energy Corporation 456 257 199
21 Noble Energy, Inc. 394 402 -8
22 Marathon 365 431 -66
23 Pioneer Natural 356 367 -11
24 Range Resources 351 304 47
25 Forest Oil 331 311 20
26 Cimarex Energy 318 354 -36
27 EQT Resources  1 280 237 43
28 Cabot Oil & Gas 263 227 36
29 SandRidge Energy 245 239 6
30 St. Mary Land & Exploration 201 205 -4
31 Energen Resources  Corp. 198 180 18
32 Plains Exploration & Production Co. 198 200 -3
33 Quicksilver Resources 169 96 73
34 MDU Resources 157 182 -25
35 W&T Offshore, Inc. 147 187 -40
36 Dominion Energy (Louis Dreyfus) 115 160 -45
37 Unit Corporation 121 130 -9
38 Stone Energy 107 102 5
39 Hess Corporation 92 83 9
40 Nexen Inc. 54 85 -31
  Total 30,088 28,370 1,718

Source: http://www.ngsa.org/

The above table depicts the second quarter LNG production during the year 2009 and also it compares the same with that of 2nd quarter 2008 production. We recognise from the aforementioned table that there is a steady growth in the LNG production of 1.7% as compared to 2009 2nd quarter production with that of 2nd quarter production of 2008. This demonstrates there is very good demand for LNG carriers in the coming years and hence,  I suggest that our company should seize the opportunity of buying the six second LNG carriers which will add more strength to our group company’s growth in the long run.

For instance, BG group reaffirmed that it has the probable sales commitment aggregating to 8.3 million TPA. These sales obligations are based on its deal with Chinese giant CNOOC’s 2009 business deal to buy 3.9 million TPA for 20 years and sales position at Chile and Singapore. In the year 2009, BG had transported 222 LNG cargoes in total with 151 destined to other markets and71 destined to US. In their forward looking statement, BG group expects the revenues from its LNG business to range from $1.8 billion to $2 billion per year for the next three succeeding years. This illustrates that the existing LNG carriers are earning good revenue from the LNG transportation business. (BG Group 2010).

2.10 Why Should we Prefer Second Hand Vessels?

Beenstock and Vergottis (1993) estimate that second hand LNG ships can be assumed as risky assets in which revenues will be a function of the rate of return on ships relative to the return on other assets added together with a risk premium.

The main aim for the second hand ship market is to enhance the efficiency of shipping operations in offering shipping services by transferring ownership of ships without impacting the tonnage volume offered in the LNG shipping market.

The significant elements that impact the price of a new ship or a second hand ship in a given phase of time are the age of the ship, the existing freight rates, the cost of a new building and the ship owner’s visulisation for the future. It is to be noted that higher the age of the ship, the lower will be its price as an older LNG ship is subject to more frequent repairs and maintenance, and is subject to more frequent damages. 

The life of the tankers used in LNG shipping industry spans approximately about forty years. LNG ships need not to be replaced with extension of every new contract. As a result, “second-hand tankers” started to appear in the market. It is to be noted that the average age of LNG fleet as of today is about 14 years. By the end of 2010, only about 4 ships of the present fleet would be scrapped.  Total number of scrapped ships from the year 1964 to 2010 is just seven only. Further, from the period 1965 to 1996, about twenty –one LNG ships have changed ownership. This demonstrates that there is high profitability for shipping companies if they use secondhand LNG ships. (Case Business School 2009).

An LNG carrier is more capital intensive in nature, and it is rather unlikely that the independent owners will go for new LNG ships as there are substantial cost savings by acquiring a second hand ship. Further, second hand ships can be used for either long-term contract or for spot contract. Hence, there is assured revenue generation for second hand ships in LNG shipping industry.

2.11 Why Should We Go for the Acquisition of Six Second Hand LNG Carriers?

I strongly suggest that we should approach the financial institutions and banks for the acquisition 6 numbers of second hand LNG carriers for funding the purchase of these vessels. Since our company is having strong financial fundamentals, and I suggest that we should diversify our activities to transport of LNG.  LNG supply contracts involve usually long-term contracts for nearly for twenty years. Thus, long-term LNG supply contracts offer stability and there will be high debt levels if our company goes for heavy loan funding from banks and financial institutions. Since, there is assured revenue due to long-term supply and transport contracts for LNG, repayment of loan installments will not be an issue as it will be met with matching the revenue stream of the company.

Some critics will argue that there will financial risks due to fluctuations in foreign exchange and interest movements. Our company like other LNG ship operators can minimise these risks by using financial derivatives like hedges, forward contracts, etc. (Teekay LNG 2009).

Our company can immediately enter into long-term chartering contracts with the existing LNG suppliers for these LNG vessels to be acquired by us shortly. It is to be observed that revenue stream is rest assured on the long-term basis for at least for the next succeeding twenty years. In such scenario, no near-term refinancing is required. Further, I envisage there will be no poignant balloon payments until late 2020. The liquidity that the six second LNG carriers are going to offer will be more than enough to meet the repayment schedules that will fall due in the near future. Further, I wish to affirm that all the capital expenditure in this regard will be funded from appropriate sources.

Graph 1

Graph Showing no of Ships Owned and Ordered by Existing LNG Shipping Companies

From the chart shown as above, there are already 15 numbers of service providers in the LNG transport industry. Global demand for LNG is anticipated to swell by more than fifty percent by 2030. Further, LNG is anticipated to account for eighty percent of the increase in total inter-regional trade. The above shipping companies are not only successful in their present LNG transport operation, all the present players except Nigeria LNG have ordered for new vessels. This demonstrates that future for LNG transport industry is very bright. (Teekay LNG 2009).

Table 3: Number of Vessels Needed for Future LNG Expansion

Source: Teekay LNG 2009

The above table depicts the demand for the LNG carriers for the existing projects and for their expansion activities. There is a likelihood of demand for 63 new LNG carriers. Since, I strongly suggest that our company should purchase the 6 numbers of second hand LNG carriers so that we can rest assured that there is every chance for chartering our vessels to anyone or mixtures of the above projects.

Positive Long –Term Fundamental for LNG Transport:

Graph  2 – Details of Inter-Regional Exports of LNG

Source: Teekay LNG 2009

The above graph illustrates that about eighty five percent of increases in international inter –regional exports are anticipated to come from Africa / Middle East. This again demonstrates that there is good demand for LNG ships in the near future.

Conclusion

To sum up, I wish to reiterate the following;

LNG imports by Taiwan have increased by 90% in January 2010. BP group has visualised that European LNG imports are likely to have about 100 percent increase in 2020. About sixty four million American families use natural gas as fuel for their homes. According to BG group, universal LNG production is set to increase from about” 175m tonnes per annum in 2008 to 275 m by 2011.” However, demand may surpass the supply between the years 2011 to 2015. (Ford 2009:51). China is expected to double its LNG imports to 12 million tonnes in the year 2010 from the 5.53 million imported in 2009. For LNG supplies to be made from Qatar in the near future, about sixty LNG carriers are needed for transporting of LNG from Qatar to US and Europe market. BG group expects the revenues from its LNG business to range from $1.8 billion to $2 billion per year for the next three succeeding years. This illustrates that the existing LNG carriers are earning good revenue from the LNG transportation business.

LNG ships need not to be replaced with extension of every new contract. As a result, “second-hand tankers” started to appear in the market. From the period 1965 to 1996, about twenty –one LNG ships have changed ownership. This demonstrates that there is high profitability for shipping companies if they use secondhand LNG ships. (Case Business School 2009). An LNG carrier is more capital intensive in nature, and it is rather unlikely that the independent owners will go for new LNG ships as there are substantial cost savings by acquiring a second hand ship.

There is an excellent safety record in LNG shipping industry in general. Hence, purchasing of second hand vessels will not pose any problem in the future.

As there exists long-term supply and transport contracts for LNG, repayment of loan installments will not be an issue as it will be met with the revenue stream of the company.

I highly suggest, in view of the above, that we should purchase six second hand LNG ships as it will enhance the profitability of our group and also make us more diversified in our business operation.

References
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