Tankers carrying Qatari LNG resume Red Sea operations amid tension

Major shipping companies suspended sailings on the trade route after missile attacks by Houthi rebels

A container ship crosses the Gulf of Suez towards the Red Sea before entering the Suez Canal. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Several tankers transporting Qatari liquefied natural gas (LNG) have resumed sailing through the Red Sea after pausing for several days amid rising geopolitical tension.

Four vessels have resumed course through the critical trade route, which carries about 12 per cent of global shipping traffic, according to live updates from the Marine Traffic ship tracker.

The LNG tanker Al Rekayyat has recommenced its journey through the Red Sea and is en route to Qatar, the data indicates. It had been halted on its Red Sea route since January 13.

The vessels Al Ghariya, Al Huwaila, and Al Nuaman, carrying Qatari LNG, are on the move, but they have altered course to the south, despite still signalling the Suez Canal as their destination, the data showed.

The three tankers cut their speed on January 14 and started circling off the coast of Oman, east of the strait, Alex Froley, LNG analyst at ICIS, said in a report on Monday.

Al Rekayyat, which was returning to Qatar, cut its speed on January 13 and was paused in the middle of the Red Sea, he said.

QatarEnergy did not immediately respond to The National's requests for comment.

Major shipping companies have suspended their operations in the Red Sea after missile attacks by Yemeni Houthi rebels, who say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians, disrupting global trade as Israel's war in Gaza rages on.

US warplanes shot down a cruise missile fired by Houthi rebels at one of its warships in the Red Sea on Sunday.

Last week, the US and the UK launched air strikes on Houthi military positions across Yemen, pledging to protect the freedom of navigation in the Red Sea.

The Suez Canal is a major artery for global trade, with significant LNG exports mainly consisting of deliveries from Qatar to Europe and exports from the US and Russia to Asia.

“Qatari LNG could navigate around the Cape of Good Hope to reach Europe, adding at least 10 days to the voyage duration but saving on canal transit fees,” Xi Nan, senior vice president of gas and LNG markets research at Rystad Energy, told The National.

Qatar, the world’s second largest LNG exporter, shipped about 14 million tonnes of the gas to Europe in 2023, all through the Suez Canal, the Norway-based consultancy said.

In 2022, Qatar's LNG trade with Europe through the canal stood at 19.84 million tonnes.

“The good news … is that both Europe and the US have robust gas storage currently, and weather forecasts show slightly warmer than average temperatures for much of the northern hemisphere, excluding the US' current cold snap,” Ms Xi said.

Dutch Title Transfer Facility gas futures, the benchmark European contract, were trading 1.10 per cent lower at nearly €30 ($32.67) per megawatt hour on Tuesday.

Europe’s LNG imports hit a record high last year as Russia reduced its exports to the continent following its invasion of Ukraine.

However, demand this year has been weak due to a warmer-than-expected winter and high storage levels.

In early November, Europe’s underground gasfields, where the fuel is stored for consumption during peak demand in cold weather, were 98 per cent full.

Updated: January 16, 2024, 11:05 AM