Coast Guard Says U.S. Faces Ship Shortage for Gas Exports

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The expected boom in liquefied natural gas exports from the United States risks being hampered by a lack of vessels to handle the trade, the head of the U.S. coast guard told shipping industry executives on Tuesday.

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The LNG tanker market, currently suffering from oversupply due to weak demand for natural gas, could thus in a few years face a shortage of capacity, Paul Zukunft told the Nor-Shipping conference.

Several large projects are under construction on the U.S. Gulf coast, including Cheniere Energy's Sabine Pass, due to come on stream later this year, and Sempra Energy's Cameron LNG, set for completion in 2018.

"Right now we have one of the largest LNG facilities in the world being built in Louisiana," Zukunft said, referring to the Cameron plant. "In the next 3-4 years there are not enough gas ships in the world that can accommodate that growth."

Cameron LNG received approval from the U.S. Energy Department in January for exports of up to 12 million tonnes of LNG per year.

"We sit on 20 percent of the world's LNG, so the question is how do we get this commodity into the market place and how do we leverage it for our shipping industry," Zukunft said, adding that the expansion of the Panama Canal, set to finish in 2016, will help. (Reporting by Joachim Dagenborg, editing by Terje Solsvik and William Hardy)