With the demand for LNG expected to rise, Indian shipowners want to invest in LNG carriers
With the demand for LNG expected to rise, Indian shipowners want to invest in LNG carriers. But this requires a revamp of the policy on LNG movement.
Would you dream about running when you can’t even walk? That seems to be what Indian ship-owners are doing. Globally, shipping is in choppy waters. Freight markets have been weak and their outlook is weaker. Even the mightiest in the industry are finding it difficult to keep their fleet afloat. The Indian shipping sector is also facing bad weather. But its captains have great dreams; they are exploring ways to enter the high-cost cost liquefied natural gas (LNG) transportation business.
“It may appear a bit unrealistic or over-ambitious now, but you’ve got to think long term,” said a shipping company official when asked about the industry’s request for a new LNG Transportation Policy.
Currently, LNG imports are made on a c.i.f basis. This means, the supplier of the gas also make the shipping arrangements. The buyer has no say in the transportation of the cargo. Normally, LNG import contracts are entered into for 15-20 years and the shipping terms are part of the contract.
Indian shipping lines have approached the Government for a review of the present shipping policy for LNG import. They want fresh contracts to be made on an f.o.b basis, which means shipment of the cargo will be the buyer’s responsibility. LNG importers can hire Indian flag vessels.
What has prompted Indian companies to think about LNG now?
While charter rates remain extremely weak for most types of ships, LNG carriers have been fetching robust rentals. LNG rates have been on the rise ever since the Japanese reduced their dependence on nuclear energy following the earthquake last year and started using more of LNG. The spot rates now range from $140,000-$150,000 per day for a vessel.
The demand for LNG in India is expected to go up in the coming years. Even in the current year, imports are expected to increase following the drop in gas output in the Reliance KG gas field and the rise in demand. The demand-supply gap in 2012 is estimated at 27 million metric cubic meters per day.
But unfortunately, no Indian companies fully own an LNG vessel. Shipping Corporation of India has part-ownership (26 per cent) in three LNG vessels, the only Indian interest in the LNG shipping as of now. A new LNG vessel costs around $200 million. Second-hand vessels are hardly available for acquisition. Under the current scenario, no Indian lines will be in a position to raise funds for buying LNG carriers.
But Indian shipowners think they will be able to make investments in LNG carriers if they have assured cargo. They can go for joint ventures with overseas parties. Or they can find overseas financiers. But this is possible only with a change in the LNG transport policy. And the Indian National Shipowners Association, the apex body of shipowners, has taken the initiative in seeking a review of the existing LNG transportation policy.
“India now has the expertise in operating LNG ships. SCI operates two of the three vessels it has equity stake in. The third one also is expected to come into its fold by next year,” said an SCI official.
There is an inter-ministerial panel headed by the Director General of Foreign Trade, which decides on the policy on LNG transportation. The industry first needs the blessings of this panel.
Many other countries provide cargo support to their national fleet. It would be in the country’s interest to have its own fleet to carry this vital cargo – the fuel of the future.
So there is some merit in arguing for a long-term policy to support the Indian shipping industry. But for the time being, LNG cargo remains a dream for Indian lines.
Even if it gets the cargo support, the domestic industry will have to wait for some time to have its own LNG fleet.
Source: The Hindu Business Line