The liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry is still "booming" compared to previous years, but participants need to clearly explain to the public how safe LNG actually is, the secretary general of the Society of International Gas Tankers and Terminal Operators said Thursday.

Speaking to the "LNG 15," an international LNG conference in Barcelona, Spain, James A. MacHardy said there has been no slowdown in the marketplace as far as he can tell. More than 25% of natural gas consumed today is transported by sea, and he said there are not enough tankers or regasification terminals.

"We need ships and terminals," he said. "Twenty-six ships were built last year, 34 will be built this year and 2008 should see 57 more."

However, he said the safety record of LNG shipping offered important statistics that need to be stressed to consumers. MacHardy said the public often does not understand the shipping process and is not aware of the high percentage of LNG cargoes safely delivered to their destinations.

"We have never spilled a large volume of LNG with 46,000 loaded voyages completed," he said. "We must ensure that the exceptional safety record is maintained as one high profile incident is likely to blemish the industry for some years."

Another problem, he noted, was finding enough LNG crews for the tankers. MacHardy estimated that 117 new gas carriers have entered active service over the last three years, creating a need for technical and specialized manpower.

"Never before has the global fight for sea-going technical talent been tougher," MacHardy said. Besides recruiting and training new crew members, he said it is "vital" to retain those already in the industry. "What is very commendable is the role played by ship management companies in establishing training centers as the lack of qualified human resources could become a long-term problem."

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