Qatar-based shipowner Nakilat is taking over the management of 25 large LNG carriers from Shell International Trading & Shipping Co (STASCo).
In February, the 2009-built, 266,366m³ Al Dafna became the fifth Q-max LNG carrier taken into management by Nakilat Shipping Qatar (NSQL). That delivery brought the total NSQL-managed fleet to 13 gas ships – nine LNG carriers and four LPG carriers.
Nakilat and STASCo formed their strategic alliance in 2006. The two companies agreed then that the Qatari shipowner needed time to build up its internal resources, capacity and expertise to become an independent shipping organisation. Nakilat has launched a phased transition to ease the takeover.
The company is positioning itself to become a global leader in energy transport and maritime services. Centralising shipmanagement will also allow it to develop its skills base, to cut costs and to improve efficiency.
Nakilat’s first step was to launch an independent review by reputable shipmanagement technical advisors, to gauge the competency and capacity of NSQL to undertake the planned transition, factoring in its organisational structure and resources.
NSQL has a track record managing Nakilat’s jointly owned fleet of LNG and LPG carriers. It has 30 shore-based staff, many with experience working for oil and gas majors, or for other shipowners, operators and managers.
NSQL staff worked with STASCo to build up their shipmanagement skills, including fleet operations, SHEQ systems, contracts and procurement, IT systems and business controls and systems.
Seagoing staff are trained to Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO) guidelines.
“An important factor throughout this transition process is that the crew will remain unchanged, thus ensuring continuity of service onboard the vessels,” Nakilat told LNG World Shipping. “This is essential as our sea going staff already have good shipboard familiarisation with the existing safety management systems, operating philosophies and processes.”
Taking its shipmanagement role inhouse, Nakilat aims to shore up Qatar’s LNG supply chain, delivering the country’s exports to global markets and investing in marine services at home. The group’s interests include the Erhama bin Jaber al Jalahma shipyard, and shipping agency and towage services. It plans to develop these services to support the vision of an integrated maritime industry set out in Qatar’s National Vision 2030 strategy.
What is not clear, yet, is whether Nakilat sees scope to expand its fleet. The company owns some of the largest LNG carriers on the water – with 14 Q-maxes and 31 Q-flex vessels. Partnerships – notably with Greece-based Maran Gas – supported its fleet growth in the past. The question is whether it needs more of the same, or whether it can and should diversify into new ship types to tap growth in smaller-volume import markets.
“Historically, our development was based on Qatari projects and our strong connections with our JV partners,” a spokesperson says. “But with Qatari volumes stabilised and with the optimisation of the trade routes, we see little room for expansion in this specific market…
“Nakilat is open to diversification in other areas of the LNG supply chain. While we are confident in the long-term future of LNG shipping, our growth strategy is measured and balanced…
“We constantly evaluate business opportunities but any growth will need to be sustainable and supported by firm commitments.”