The renewed interest in gas, which started in the 1990sdue to its excellent environmental credentials, has seenan increase in the order book for LNG carriers – LNGcarriers being the leviathans of the gas carrier fleet.Yet, while attracting great interest, the gas trade stillemploys relatively few ships in comparison to oiltankers, and hence its inner workings are little knownexcept to a specialist group of companies andmariners.Considering the fleet of gas carriers of over 1,000m
capacity, the total of over 1,500 ships can be dividedinto 5 major types according to the following table:record is acknowledged as an industry leader. As anillustration of the robustness of gas carriers, when the
was hit by rockets in the first Gulf War,despite penetration of the containment system withhuge jet fires, the fires were successfully extinguishedand the ship, together with most cargo, salved.The relative safety of the gas carrier is due to a numberof features. One such, almost unique to the class, isthat cargo tanks are always kept under positivepressure (sometimes just a small overpressure) andthis prevents air entering the cargo system. (Of coursespecial procedures apply when stemmed for drydock).By contrast, the world oil tanker fleet for a similar sizerange is over 12,000 ships!Given the relative paucity of knowledge on gas tankersin comparison to oil tankers, the purpose of this articleis to describe the gas carrier genre, its particularitieswithin each type and its comparison with other tankers.The aim is to provide basic knowledge about gascarriers and an overview of their strengths andweaknesses, both from design and operationalviewpoints.The article on page 11 describes the liquefied naturalgas (LNG) carrier in more detail. The introduction of atanker designed to carry compressed natural gas(CNG) is anticipated in the near future. A number ofdesigns have been produced but, due to the relativelylow deadweight and high cost of these ships, the firstcommercial application of this technology cannot bepredicted.The gas carrier is often portrayed in the media as apotential floating bomb, but accident statistics do notbear this out. Indeed, the sealed nature of liquefied gascargoes, in tanks completely segregated from oxygenor air, virtually excludes any possibility of a tankexplosion. However, the image of the unsafe shiplingers, with some administrations and port statecontrol organisations tending to target such ships forspecial inspection whenever they enter harbour. Thetruth is that serious accidents related to gas carriercargoes have been few, and the gas carrier’s safetyThis means that only liquid cargo or vapour can bepresent and, accordingly, a flammable atmospherecannot exist in the cargo system. Moreover all large gascarriers utilise a closed loading system with no ventingto atmosphere, and a vapour return pipeline to theshore is often fitted and used where required. Theoxygen-free nature of the cargo system and the veryserious limitation of cargo escape to atmospherecombine to make for a very safe design concept.
The liquefied gases
First let us consider some definitions in the gas trade.According to the IMO, a liquefied gas is a gaseoussubstance at ambient temperature and pressure, butliquefied by pressurisation or refrigeration – sometimesa combination of both. Virtually all liquefied gases arehydrocarbons and flammable in nature. Liquefactionitself packages the gas into volumes well suited tointernational carriage – freight rates for a gas in itsnon-liquefied form would be normally far too costly. Theprincipal gas cargoes are LNG, LPG and a variety ofpetrochemical gases. All have their specific hazards.LNG is liquefied natural gas and is methane naturallyoccurring within the earth, or in association with oilfields. It is carried in its liquefied form at its boiling pointof -162°C. Depending on the standard of production atthe loading port, the quality of LNG can vary but itusually contains fractions of some heavier ends such asethane (up to 5%) and traces of propane.The second main cargo type is LPG (liquefiedpetroleum gas). This grade covers both butane and
The gas carrier fleet
PressurisedSemi-pressurisedEthyleneFully refrigeratedLNG carriersLPG carriersLPG carrierscarriersLPG carriersShip numbers673313140261372Total capacity (m