Middle East producer QatarEnergy is getting set to firm up seven pre-reserved LNG carrier berths at Chinese shipbuilder Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding (Group) with selected shipowners.

Those following the Qatari mega-project said Japanese shipowner NYK Line, possibly in partnership with others, is expected to take the lion’s share of the slots.

The shipowner has previously partnered with Malaysia’s MISC and China LNG Shipping (Holdings) on seven of the newbuilding slots that QatarEnergy has lined up at Hyundai Heavy Industries.

Shipbuilding and time-charter contracts on the vessels are due to be inked by the end of October.

Mitsui OSK Lines was the first shipowner teamed with QatarEnergy’s reserved berths for up to 151 LNG carriers.

The shipowner signed up to four vessels at Hudong-Zhonghua in April, two years after the Qatari giant first moved to set aside 20 berths at the Chinese yard in 2020.

It is unclear, as yet, if MOL will take any of the next seven berths at the Chinese yard.

At the time, Qatar’s minister of state for energy affairs, Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi, also president and chief executive of QatarEnergy, said: “These contracts mark the start of the construction phase of QatarEnergy’s historic fleet expansion programme in support of our LNG expansion projects.”

Since then, QatarEnergy has gone on to firm up 48 LNG carrier berths at South Korean shipyards with a mix of at least nine shipowners — some individually and others working in consortiums.

The firm contracts comprise 13 vessels at Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering — this week the subject of fresh sell-off talks — with six more due to be signed shortly to give the yard a total of 19 newbuildings for its Doha-headquartered client.

A further 17 LNG carriers have been contracted at Hyundai Heavy Industries under the Qatari shipbuilding programme. Samsung Heavy Industries has secured 18 of the orders.

Up to 45 LNG slots were originally reserved at each of the three South Korean shipbuilders for the business.

Insiders said the anticipated six orders at DSME and the further seven at Hudong-Zhonghua will essentially complete the first phase of the massive LNG newbuilding programme for QatarEnergy.

With the expected 13 orders to come, this will give the producer 65 LNG carrier newbuildings to work with that will start delivering from 2024, but with the bulk of the deliveries slewed towards 2026.

These will represent over half of the 120-plus LNG carrier orders placed at yards in 2022, which has proved a record-busting year for this newbuilding sector.

A second phase of ordering for the Qatari project is due to kick off in 2023.

Speaking at an event on Saturday, where QatarEnergy announced TotalEnergies had been selected as its first international partner in its North Field South expansion project, Al-Kaabi said his company has concluded construction and long-term charter contracts for 60 LNG carriers as part of its shipbuilding programme.

“This number can grow to 100 in future,” the minister said.

“These contracts mark the start of the construction phase of QatarEnergy’s historic fleet expansion programme in support of our LNG expansion projects.”

Aside from its North Field expansion project, QatarEnergy has previously indicated that the new vessels will be used for its volumes from the upcoming Golden Pass LNG project in the US and for fleet-replacement needs.