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Pirates threaten Asian LNG supply security

Middle East LNG exporters are increasingly worried about pirate attacks on tankers, with criminals following vessels even as they circumvent no-go areas

INCIDENTS of piracy have risen in recent years, especially around east Africa and the Gulf of Aden, with a range of ships targeted – from oil tankers to cargo vessels. LNG carriers were thought to be safe because of their speed and height, but this may not be the case.

“There have been incidents where pirates have boarded very large LNG carriers steaming at 20 knots. This is an issue that must be tackled by the industry,” said François Rafin, general manager of Yemen LNG, at the World LNG Summit.

“LNG has to be shipped on the oceans, but the oceans are becoming more and more unsafe,” he added. “From 2009 to 2011, the piracy zone changed, moving further from the coast. Many shipping companies have implemented no-go areas, in particular along the east coast of Africa. But the pirates follow the industry and … [now] operate in the areas were the traffic is.”

Rafin said the LNG tanker attacked did not belong to Yemen LNG. Oman, which borders Yemen to the east and is home to the Oman LNG and Qalhat LNG projects, is also concerned about pirates, as is world’s largest LNG producer, Qatargas.

“There have not been similar attacks on Oman LNG tankers, but there is concern about pirates,” said Oman LNG’s chief commercial officer, Adnan Rajab. Qatargas assistant director Iain Scott said his company “constantly monitors the situation”.

Shipping consultancy Drewry estimates LNG shipping insurance costs have risen by 7.5% a year over the last decade, compared with a rise in construction costs of 4.2%, reflecting the fears and dangers of piracy. And more and more LNG tankers are passing through the danger area, with over 885 carriers sailing through the Suez Canal in 2010, up from 525 in 2009 and 429 in 2008, according to the Suez Canal Authority data.

Yemen LNG’s Rafin estimated half of the LNG delivered to Asia was from Middle East or Atlantic basin suppliers, making the traffic a huge target for pirates. He said Yemen LNG will produce 7.1 million tonnes in 2011, with 60% of that heading to Asia (mainly South Korea and China), 15% to Europe and 25% to the Americas. Most of Oman LNG’s cargoes head to South Korea.

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