One of the big-name shipowners tipped to take some of the first QatarEnergy-reserved LNG carrier newbuildings berths in South Korea has pulled back from a planned deal on a clutch of vessels.

Several sources following this business closely said that JP Morgan had been lined up to ink shipbuilding and time-charter contracts on four LNG carrier newbuildings at Samsung Heavy Industries.

But they said the shipowner opted to pull out of the planned contracts and not go through with them.

Speculation is rife about why JP Morgan, which conducts its newbuilding business under the name Global Meridian Holdings, appears to have chosen not to go ahead at this stage.

Industry players are asking whether its investors will return to these or if alternative slots reserved by the Qatari LNG producing giants of another shipowner will be substituted to take them.

JP Morgan, which has built up a sizeable tally of at least 16 LNG newbuildings at SHI, has been contacted for comment about the LNG carrier slots.

To date, SHI is alone among the four LNG carrier shipbuilders not to have secured any firm vessels under QatarEnergy’s huge newbuilding programme.

In mid-2020, QatarEnergy, which has been working on its tender for the vessels through compatriot producer Qatargas, originally reserved up to 151 LNG carrier berths in total.

These comprised 16 at Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding (Group) in China and up to 45 at each of South Korea’s big three yards — Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, Hyundai Heavy Industries and SHI.

QatarEnergy selected Japan’s Mitsui OSK Lines for its first four vessels at Hudong-Zhonghua, inking contracts on the ships in April.

In the last few days, the Qatari giant has firmed up contracts with an H-Line Shipping-led consortium from Korea, which includes Pan Ocean and SK Shipping. This trio, dubbed K3, has firmed up the first four QatarEnergy berths at DSME.

These four vessels are due to be delivered by the first quarter of 2025.

Knutsen OAS Shipping signed up to the first two Qatari slots at HHI. In total, Knutsen is expected to confirm a further eight LNG newbuildings under the QatarEnergy ship acquisition plan.

Similarly, JP Morgan was also tipped to take 10 ships after a selection process whittled down bidding shipowners to a select few.

But the vastly delayed programme has been dogged by pricing issues as the cost of LNG newbuildings has risen from levels in the mid-$180m range when the berths were first reserved to over $230m by June this year.