Few takers for LNG shipping
Friday, 13 April 2012 | 00:00
Globally, transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) is a niche segment managed by an exclusive club of a few international shipping giants and oil companies. The high cost of LNG ships (each one costs $300-350 million) and the high risk involved has kept several companies away from plunging deeper into this market.
The only Indian company that forayed into the LNG transportation business is the state-owned Shipping Corporation of India (SCI). But after its initial efforts, lack of opportunities in India took the wind out of SCI’s sails.
“We are keen to expand our presence in LNG shipping,” says S Hajara, chairman and managing director of SCI. Though there were several announcements over the past one decade, very few companies set up their LNG terminals, he points out.
SCI entered the market in early 2001 with a single LNG tanker. Laxmi, the first LNG carrier to fly an Indian flag, is no longer an Indian vessel today. The vessel, which was built to carry LNG for Enron Corporation’s controversial Dabhol power plant, has changed hands, and is rechristened ‘Suhar LNG’. It is carrying liquefied gas from Oman to its buyers around the world. While Enron’s stake was taken over by Oman Shipping Company, SCI’s stake was bought over by Japanese Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL).
After a long hiatus, a SCI-led consortium managed to win a lucrative contract from Petronet LNG for three tankers. The other consortium members included three Japanese giants – MOL, NYK Lines and K Line. They won the mega deal only after a long bidding process and a subsequent court drama.
In December 2005, when Petronet LNG had nearly completed the bidding, the government changed the LNG transportation policy, jeopardising the entire bidding process. In the fresh policy, an important criteria of the Petronet tender, which required deployment of Indian flagged vessels for LNG transportation, was withdrawn. That means LNG bound for India could be carried in tankers flying any flag, not necessarily Indian flag. Obviously, this was a let-down for Indian shipping, but the move stemmed the belief that opening up could attract higher competition and bring down transportation cost.
In the first round of bidding, Exmar-led consortium – the other members being Varun Shipping Company, Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and Belgium's Tecto — had quoted the lowest. There was one more bidder, Great Eastern Shipping Company and Teekay Shipping.
But the New Delhi high court asked Petronet LNG to re-bid the transportation contract incorporating the fresh government policy as an important criteria of the tender, which required deployment of Indian flagged vessel for LNG transportation.
The SCI-led consortium is now plying three LNG carriers for Petronet, `Disha’ and `Rahi’, having a cargo capacity of about 1,38,000 cubic meters each, and `Aseem’, with a capacity of 155,000 cubic metres, which were delivered in November, 2009.
“We are the only Indian shipping company with expertise in LNG shipping. We are keenly watching the developments in the market. As and when new opportunities come up, we hope to enhance our fleet,” says Hajara.
Source: My Digital Fc