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The year 2015 is positioned as Year One for the construction of large LNG tanker

2015 is positioned as Year One for the construction of large LNG and LP gas tankers for shale gas. This is because by 2016-2018 30 LNG tankers and 30-40 LP gas tankers will be built. Of course this is not to say that all of these will be ordered from Japanese shipbuilders but there is the depreciation of the yen which is acting as a tailwind. The outlook for the future is also good so that of course a demand for gas and welding materials is also anticipated. Comparing to the ship, the demand for gas and welding materials will be steered to direct advance. 

LP gas tankers will be dealt with first

In this large building program, it seems that the large LP gas tankers will be the ones dealt with first. With the shale gas revolution, export of LP gas to Japan from US ports along the Gulf of Mexico got into full swing last year, and this has already reached the point where it accounts for 20% of the entire source. However, the Panama Canal is too narrow for the large LP gas tankers of the very large crude oil carrier (VLCC, 80,000 m3) type, including the LNG tankers, to pass through. Therefore the only thing that the large LP gas tankers can do is to make the long detour around the Cape of Good Hope of South Africa and then head on to East Asia, including Japan. This is what has brought about the skyrocketing of freight charges and the shortage of ships.

The length of a voyage of an LP gas tanker on route to Japan from the Middle East encompassing Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia normally takes 18 days. The voyage from the Gulf of Mexico to Japan by way of the Cape of Good Hope takes 45 days. For the round trip this means 36 days on the route from the Middle East versus 90 days on the route from the Gulf of Mexico. This boils down to a difference of 1 month versus 3 months. A simple calculation of the freight charges reveals that the longer voyage costs twice as much. Furthermore since it takes 2 months longer from a US port than from a port in the Middle East, the turnaround rate for a large LP gas tanker ends up greatly decreasing. The fact is that the difficulty in getting hold of enough large LP gas tankers is still a problem.
Because of this, the major Japanese wholesalers, importers, and shipping companies dealing in LP gas are vigorously placing orders for the building of large LP gas tankers. It is the same in East Asia too. Currently there are some 140 large LP gas tankers plying the seas worldwide but by 2016-2017 30 to 40 new tankers will be built, bringing the total number of these tankers to around 170 to 180.

Staring at the completion of the widening of the Panama Canal next year

Regarding LNG tankers, the progress situation of construction depends on how the construction of new shale gas liquefaction plants goes on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. As conventional development of natural gas too should become more intense everywhere, full scale exportation of shale gas from the US has yet to get underway. It seems that it will still be a while. The number of large LNG tankers in the world today is around 350 to 360. Three Japanese shipping companies, NYK Line, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha own half of these. Plans call for the building of 30 new tankers by 2020. In any case, this move will be targeted on the completion of the widening of the Panama Canal in 2016.

The general view is that it takes 3 years to build a new tanker starting from the design stage. Nowadays, however, with automation of design based on information technology (IT) usage and automation in shipbuilding, building time has been shortened. In Japan, the companies which have building slips large enough for VLCCs are Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Koyagi), Universal Shipbuilding Ariake Shipyard, IHI Marine United Kure Shipward, Imabari Shipbuilding Saijo Shipyard, Kawasaki Heavy Industries Sakaide Works, and Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Chiba Works. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Imabari Shipbuilding are creating a joint venture to build large LNG tankers. In Korea, there are Samsung Heavy Industries, Daewoo Heavy Industries, Hyundai Heavy Industries, and STX. Adding in Chinese shipbuilding companies, you have an expanding battle to get orders.

Large LP gas tankers have independent, cube shape cryogenic tanks. Polyurethane foam is used for heat insulation. The method used for welding and cutting is not all that different from that used with oil tankers. The demand for gas includes MAG as well as carbon dioxide, oxygen gas and mixed gas for welding.

There are 2 types of large LNG tankers, the MOSS type and the membrane type. Japan is good at the MOSS type which has a high degree of safety in terms of its construction. Put simply, these are tankers with their tanks insulated with a vacuum maintaining a temperature of under -160℃ for the LNG during the voyage. Special welding processes such as TIG and MIG are required because aluminum is used for the inside tank. A mixed gas composed of argon and helium is used as the shield gas. Of course, specific wire is also used. In addition to these, cutting gas and nitrogen for purging is also used.

Furthermore, there is a serious shortage of laborers and skilled workers at the shipyards. Because of this, there is a very good possibility that more than ever before new technology will be introduced for increased production efficiency in all areas. This would include automated devices, including robots, as well as low sputter and groove cutting. In the Japanese welding gas market it is hoped that the number of safe and high quality large tankers to be constructed will be increasing


06 Apr. 2015

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