Japanese utility to own, operate LNG carriers


TOKYO�Japan's largest city gas utility, Tokyo Gas Co., says it has placed an order with Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. for two LNG carriers at an estimated cost of �40 billion. Tokyo Gas already owns interests in two LNG carriers, but the move marks the first time a Japanese gas utility has opted to solely own and operate its own LNG carriers. Tokyo Gas says the purchase of the carriers is aimed at reducing its import costs.

The vessels will be used to import LNG from a number of suppliers in the region, including Malaysia, Australia, and Indonesia.

The utility said the vessels, to be owned by a wholly owned subsidiary, will have a capacity of 135,000-145,000 cu m of LNG each. The first vessel is scheduled to be completed in 2003, and the second in 2005 or 2006. The first tanker will be operated on a commission basis by Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd.

The two carriers will transport 2 million tonnes of the 7 million tonnes of LNG that Tokyo Gas annually imports. The company adds that the two carriers will be used not only for long-term LNG buying but also for more flexible short-term or spot transactions. It would also consider new LNG transport business for third parties.

Tokyo Gas already jointly owns two LNG carriers with other gas companies and shippers for importing Indonesian LNG through its stake in Tokyo LNG Tanker.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's national shipping company, Malaysia International Shipping Corp., has reportedly ordered a further two 138,000 cu m LNG carriers from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Mitsui Zosen Eimco Co. This is in addition to four carriers MISC ordered during 1997-99 from the two Japanese shipbuilders; these are slated for delivery in 2001 and 2002.

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