Middle East producing giant QatarEnergy has confirmed more of its reserved berths for LNG carriers at three South Korean shipyards and has now given the go-ahead to more than one-third of the slots it set aside in 2020 under its mammoth programme for up to 151 newbuildings.

Those following the process closely said QatarEnergy, which is conducting its huge LNG newbuilding tender business through its compatriot producer Qatargas, has upped its declared berths at Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering to 18 in total.

Of these, an H-Line Shipping-led consortium of South Korean owners, including Pan Ocean and SK Shipping dubbed “K3”, has already been married with four of these slots and shipbuilding and charter contracts on them inked.

At Hyundai Heavy Industries, QatarEnergy has upped its declared slots to 17. To date, Norway’s Knutsen OAS Shipping has inked contracts with the yard and the Qatari producer on two of these.

QatarEnergy has also increased the berths it has declared at Samsung Heavy Industries to 18.

Unlike the other two yards, as of 20 June, no shipowners had been paired with the SHI slots.

TradeWinds reported this month that JP Morgan’s interests had been lined up for the first four berths at the yard. But the company is understood to have become embroiled in discussions.

One source said a shipowner — possibly K3 — will be assigned to these first SHI berths.

To date, QatarEnergy has confirmed 10 firm LNG carrier newbuildings two years after it first set aside the berths.

In addition to the six firm vessels in South Korea, Japanese shipowner Mitsui OSK Lines has been signed up to the first four slots at China’s Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding (Group).

In April 2020, QatarEnergy — then Qatar Petroleum — signed its LNG newbuilding berth reservation deal by video conference link with Hudong-Zhonghua. Photo: CSSC

But under its two-stage process and including the firm orders already placed, QatarEnergy has now declared and in principle said it will be proceeding with 57 out of a possible 151 slots — 45 at each South Korean yard and 16 that were reserved at Hudong-Zhonghua.

More owners are expected to be declared soon.

Apart from K3, both MOL and Knutsen are expected to take more, with the Norwegian owner widely rumoured to be lined up for at least 10 vessels.

But those close to the process said the shipbuilders are losing out on price.

One revealed that a per-vessel price of $215m was agreed on the Qatari business after extensive renegotiations took place in April and May in the wake of sharp price rises at shipyards.

However, this is still substantially below the levels paid on the last three newbuilding deals concluded in the past few weeks.

TMS Cardiff Gas and Maran Gas Maritime paid just over $230m per vessel on a pair of newbuildings.

But, on Thursday last week, it emerged that Evangelos Marinakis-controlled Capital Gas had paid out $240m each to secure a pair of 2026-delivering LNG carrier newbuildings.

Brokers and commentators have suggested the LNG carrier newbuilding price could yet move higher as would-be buyers compete for the few slots remaining outside the Qatari business.