The rates to charter vessels for spot liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments hit records this week amid renewed demand from buyers in Asia and the strong prices that are attracting U.S. cargoes and tying up ships for longer journeys. 

According to Spark Commodities, LNG tanker rates in the Pacific Basin were assessed earlier this week at $316,750/day, up 9% from a week ago and surpassing a high set last winter amid historic cold. Rates in the Atlantic Basin were up 5% over the same time to $254,250/day, according to the data. 

Freight rates began rising last month, which is typical ahead of winter, but the increase has also corresponded with a sharp spike in global gas prices since then. Spot LNG rates in North Asia were assessed at about $37/MMBtu on Thursday. The front-month Japan-Korea Marker contract is also fetching a roughly $4-5 premium over European benchmarks, as it is farther down the curve too. 

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Top buyers in Asia, including those in China, Japan and South Korea, have returned to the spot market seeking shipments as colder weather has begun to settle in. Shipbroker Fearnleys AS said in a note to clients Wednesday the freight market is only beginning to heat up. 

“In recent days this has been made clear by an emergence of new requirements issued in advance from apprehensive end-users seeking coverage for their peak winter cargoes, aware that shipping availability over the coming period” could be sparse, Fearnleys analysts said. 

“To this end, with many subletters holding tight onto their dear tonnage and most independent owners sold out, Charterers may have few other options than to pay up, and more often than not, also absorb hefty idle time costs in order to secure a vessel.”

Spot vessel rates provided by Fearnleys and published by NGI’s LNG Insight have also jumped over the last week. Fearnleys data showed rates in the Atlantic at $250,000/day, up from $215,000 a week ago. In the Pacific, Fearnleys showed rates at $290,000/day, up from $250,000 over the same time. 

U.S. LNG is in high demand. Braemar ACM said trade along the Gulf Coast continues driving the short-term freight market by absorbing a large chunk of the modern fleet. The shipbroker said nearly one-third of the vessels with the capacity to carry 160,000-174,000 cubic feet of LNG were operating in the Atlantic Basin at the end of last month. 

Braemar added that vessel tracking data through October suggests that the United States has surpassed Qatar as the second largest exporter by the number of loadings made so far in 2021. 

According to NGI data, netbacks to the Gulf Coast from Asia were at nearly $33/MMBtu Wednesday. Stronger prices and solid demand in the region found about 42% of all U.S. cargoes shipped to Asia through August, according to NGI calculations

The tight market comes as feed gas deliveries to U.S. export terminals recently hit new highs of more than 12 Bcf/d. Volumes are headed higher as the Calcasieu Pass facility and a sixth train at the Sabine Pass terminal ramp-up