Liquid gold

With its multiple partnerships and subsidiaries, Nakilat represents Qatar’s marine industry at its best, helping to diversify the Gulf state’s economy and supporting its oil and gas sector at the same time. Arabian Business meets Muhammad Ghannam, Nakilat’s managing director, to see how this industry works and why it will take Qatar forward

Nakilat, or Qatar Gas Transport Company as it is otherwise known, tends to deal in superlatives. It oversees the world’s largest fleet of liquified natural gas (LNG) vessels. As Qatar is the planet’s biggest producer of LNG — with around 77 million tonnes shipped out per year — Nakilat’s role in keeping global markets well-stocked with the country’s liquid wealth is nothing short of vital.

More than 70 percent of LNG exports from Qatargas and RasGas — the country’s two major gas producers — are transported on Nakilat’s ships. That means that about 54 million tonnes of LNG travel around the world annually on the firm’s vessels.

One decision that’s looming on the horizon could have huge implications for Nakilat’s future. In 2005, local officials placed a moratorium on additional projects to produce natural gas from Qatar’s giant North Field, which has nearly all of the country’s reserves. Next year, Qatar will decide whether to restart new exploration programmes at the North Field, which could result in Nakilat boosting its LNG shipping fleet beyond 54. Either way, the firm won’t have any problems securing financing if the ship orders come flooding in. Last month, Nakilat signed a $917m loan refinancing deal with Qatar National Bank.

“If they decide to go above the 77 million tonnes, it means that we will be requiring additional LNG ships.  This means we will be constructing and operating more ships,” says Muhammad Ghannam, Nakilat’s managing director, adding that the number and size of the vessels will depend on the volume of production and on the export destination.

The question, in fact, is not only whether Qatar will increase its gas production but also to which countries, as some countries don’t have terminals that are equipped to host LNG ships of all sizes.

“It depends on the volume of production,” Ghannam says. “What influences the number of vessels we are going to produce is also the destination. Is it going to the Far East, is it going to Europe, or somewhere else? Distance is another factor and also the size too because some terminals can’t receive big ships.”

Over 5,000 people from 27 different nations are now working for Nakilat and in about three years this number could grow to over 10,000.

“We have around 5,000 people and we expect to really go above 10,000-plus in a few years down the road,” says Ghannam. “Once we get all the facilities completed, we will be more than 10,000 people. We plan to double our staff in about three years.”

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