Originally loaded on board 'Pskov' in Spain, the cargo was successfully transferred at sea off Linggi, Malaysia to the 'Yenisei River'. We asked Gordon Young - Marine Superintendent at Gazprom Global LNG to explain how such transfers are optimising GM&T's shipping activities.
Are STS transfers of LNG common practice?
The first ship-to-ship (STS) transfer of LNG was conducted in Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands in 2007. Since then, transfers between ships in port - where vessels are made fast to a shore terminal - have been fairly regular occurrences. Transfers at sea have been less common, although there's been an increase in these over the last couple of years.
Why did GM&T need to undertake a STS transfer?
By conducting the recent STS operation, Pskov was able to complete an additional charter that would have been lost to a competitor - and Yenisei River was employed rather than being idle.
Who decides whether GM&T goes ahead with a transfer - and how long does it take to plan?
If the cargo on a GM&T-chartered vessel is operated by the GM&T LNG Trading team and there is a commercial need for such an operation, they would request GM&T Shipping to conduct technical and commercial due diligence.
All 3 functions in Shipping - Chartering, Shipping Operations and Technical & Marine Assurance, would jointly carry out the preparations involving external stakeholders - owners of vessels, STS operators, authorities, agents and, importantly, the Masters and the crews of the vessels involved.
If we in Shipping determine that the transfer can proceed, the final decision to go ahead is made by LNG Trading, after which we carry it out.
December's operation was planned one month in advance. However, transfers can be planned and executed more quickly, providing safety isn't compromised.
Why was this recent transfer necessary?
The LNG cargo was destined for Higashi Ohgishima, in Tokyo Bay, but Pskov was scheduled to load another cargo in Bonny, Nigeria on 23 December. Without the transfer to the Yenisei River on 6 December, there wouldn't have been enough time for Pskov to discharge the cargo in Japan and get back to Bonny in time.
How much LNG was transferred and how long did it take?
Some 133,000m3 of LNG was transferred between the vessels. This was close to a full cargo, since Yenisei River's maximum capacity is approximately 152,600m3. The entire operation - from when Pskov arrived at Linggi until her departure - was 63 hours and the actual transfer of LNG took 39 hours.
What are the technical challenges and risks involved?
The key factors affecting STS transfers are weather and location, both of which are carefully considered during the planning stage of the operation. Conditions have to be suitable so that the vessels can sit alongside one another without risk of damage to each other - or the environment. It's also essential to control the vapour generated during the operation. This is done by consuming the excess by operating the ships generators of by burning in the Gas Combustion Units.
What particular safety/security protocols have to be followed?
These are much the same as those followed when berthing at a terminal. Guidelines published by the main industry bodies cover all aspects including safety, communications, manoeuvring the vessels, mooring and unmooring, security and emergencies.
What are the commercial benefits to GM&T of STS?
The main commercial benefits lie in the added flexibility STS brings to the chartered fleet. And whilst safety of personnel, the environment and assets will always take precedence, future STS operations will further optimise our chartered shipping activities - and deliver tangible benefits for GM&T's bottom line.