* Lack of tankers makes new deals hard for smaller players
* Charter rates on the rise due to ship shortage
* Qatari LNG tanker chartering increases
By Edward McAllister
NEW YORK, March 1 A lack of available liquefied
natural gas (LNG) tankers helped push charter rates up this
winter and continues to hamper trade for smaller players
without access to tonnage, shipper Golar LNG (GLNG.O) said on
Large increases in Asian demand and new projects coming
online have shrunk the number of available tankers in recent
months, making it difficult to secure short term deals, Golar
While higher charter rates helped Golar's shipping arm, its
new trading subsidiary, Golar Commodities, struggled to make
inroads into a market long dominated by players like BG Group
BG.L, BP (BP.L) or Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) with fleets of
"The earnings and prospects of Golar Commodities have been
negatively influenced by the tightening of the LNG shipping
market," Golar said at the release of its fourth quarter
results. "Shipping challenges are making it difficult for new
Golar launched its trading subsidiary in May last year to
market and trade LNG cargoes, but after a couple of deals
earlier in the year transactions have been hard to come by. The
company said that activity in the fourth quarter was limited to
"residual" deals from the previous three months.
According to ship broker Fearnleys LNG, there was about one
tanker available for charter at the beginning of the year, down
from about 15 last summer. Conversely, shipping rates doubled
from less than $30,000 a day to over $60,000 over the same
Some deals fell through last year after parties failed to
secure a ship after winning an LNG supply tender.
"Vessel availability has now reached a level of tightness
not seen in the market for several years," Golar said.
HARD FOR NEW PLAYERS
A whole string of new trading players like banks have
entered the LNG market over the last couple of years, looking
to make the most of growing production and increased trading
But spot tenders have been won almost exclusively in recent
months by major players with their own fleets. New players have
been limited to more peripheral, riskier trades like
re-exporting cargoes from the U.S. Gulf to Europe and Asia.
One cause of the shipping shortage is an increase in tanker
chartering by top exporter Qatar to increase its flexibility.
Analysts say that the large tankers built by Qatar, which were
intended for shuttling LNG to U.S. terminals, are not suitable
for other smaller terminals now that shale gas has dented U.S.
Last week, Waterborne LNG analysts said that Qatar, which
is already chartering up to 10 tankers this year -- up from
about five last year -- had chartered two more vessels from
Excelerate Energy while it retrofits some of its own tankers to
run on LNG boil-off.
Qatar Petroleum and Excelerate were not available for
Golar reported revenues of $64.6 million in the fourth
quarter, off slightly from $65.5 million over the same period
(Additional reporting by Daniel Fineren in London; Editing by