Two of Asia’s leading shipbuilders saw an influx of orders for new liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers this month, capping an otherwise slow year for newbuilds. 

Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering Co. Ltd. (KSOE) said in a regulatory filing last week that it landed various contracts to build nine LNG carriers. KSOE is scheduled to deliver one vessel to a Panamanian shipping company in 2024, while another two ships will be delivered to a buyer in Bermuda in 2023. KSOE subsidiary Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries will build the ships. 

KSOE announced other deals earlier last week to build six more LNG vessels for two undisclosed companies. 

In another deal, Samsung Heavy Industries Co. Ltd said it signed a contract with an African owner that’s worth more than $700 million for four LNG carriers that are expected to be delivered in 2024, according to a regulatory filing. 

Despite the late surge in orders, it’s been a slow year for new LNG vessels as the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the global economy and the natural gas trade. According to shipbroker Braemar ACM, just 19 vessels in the large conventional class with sizes of 160,000-190,000 cubic meters have been ordered this year. Vessels of that size have become more common as global supplies of LNG have increased. Last year, owners ordered 67 vessels in that class, Braemar said. 

Activity in the global LNG trade slowed this year as the pandemic took a bite out of energy demand. But trading has increased with colder weather, which has strained vessel availability with only so many on the water at one time.  

“Bids continue to flood in for vessels with prompt availability and the drag from the Pacific into the Atlantic continues to be the preference for owners,” Fearnleys AS analysts said in a note to clients last week.

Increased U.S. LNG exports to Asia this winter have driven vessel spot charter rates to two-year highs. Spot vessel rates on Tuesday were at $180,000/day in the Atlantic Basin and $170,000/day in the Pacific Basin, according to NGI data provided by Fearnleys. 

Japan Korea Marker prices have reached levels not seen in years, with spot deals assessed at over $13.00/MMBtu in early February. Stronger prices have lifted the February arbitrage spread between the Gulf Coast and Asia to $7.725 for those with vessels chartered and to $5.312 for those who need to secure a vessel. 

More LNG is also expected to be delivered to Europe in the coming weeks as colder weather is forecast and underground storage draws down.