Companies planning offshore LNG terminals commit to using U.S. mariners on tankers
Agreements between the U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd) and two energy companies planning liquefied natural gas terminals off the coast of Massachusetts should mean the creation of 300 to 400 jobs for U.S. mariners within the next three to five years.
The two companies, Suez Energy and Excelerate Energy, have committed to hiring U.S. mariners to fill a quarter of the positions on the LNG tankers that use their offshore Massachusetts terminals. Suez Energy, which also owns Distrigas of Massachusetts, will also add U.S. mariners to its land-based LNG terminal near Boston.
The Suez and Excelerate decision may represent just the beginning of a significant trend. McMoRan Exploration, which has received approval for a deepwater terminal off the coast of Louisiana, is expected to follow the lead of Suez and Excelerate. McMoRan, based in Freeport, Texas, calls its project the Main Pass Energy Hub.
Other companies, including global carriers like Vancouver-based Teekay Shipping Ltd. and BG Group in Britain, are looking to complement their hires with junior officers from U.S. maritime academies.
World demand for LNG is projected to more than double by the year 2025.
To meet this growing demand, energy companies worldwide are expanding their operations and building new shore-based and deepwater terminals, storage facilities, re-gasification plants and adding new vessels to their tanker fleets. To date, U.S. energy companies have submitted 32 applications for new terminals that are currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates shore-based terminals. MarAd has jurisdiction over deepwater ports.
In addition, the existing world fleet of about 200 LNG tankers is expected to increase by 140 over the next three years, leading to a doubling of LNG transport capacity.
As demand for LNG grows, the industry faces a multitude of challenges, not the least of which is the shortage of qualified mariners to crew these highly sophisticated vessels and handle their potentially dangerous cargo.
According to a report published by Poten & Partners, a New York-based consulting firm, the typical LNG vessel is operated by a crew of 27, consisting of five deck officers, five engineering officers and 17 other crewmembers; the full crew requirement for that vessel is really 64 to 70 when vacations, illness and turnover are considered. As a result, the need for trained mariners to serve the growing fleet is staggering. The Poten report estimates that for ships currently on order, global crew requirements will top 9,000 — 2,300 deck officers, 2,400 engineers and 4,500 additional hands.
All of this points to a unique opportunity for U.S. mariners. The pressure to secure trained crew on LNG vessels has increased wages globally. Although U.S. mariners still command a premium, the salary gap is closing. U.S. mariners are now becoming a more reasonable crew choice for foreign vessel owners.
Owners are also attracted to U.S. mariners because of the specialized training available to them.
Institutions providing LNG training include: SUNY Maritime College in New York; the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point; the RTM Star Center in Dania Beach, Fla.; the Calhoon MEBA Engineering School in Easton, Md.; the Maritime Institute of Technology & Graduate Studies in Linthicum, Md.; the Seafarers International Union’s training center in Piney Point, Md.; Marine Safety International in Newport, R.I.; and Texas Engineering Extension Service in College Station, Texas.
Safety and security concerns here in the United States are also a driving force for getting U.S. mariners aboard non-U.S.-flagged LNG vessels. Because of their volatile cargo, LNG tankers are viewed as a potential terrorist target, as are shore-based facilities. Since U.S. mariners must undergo careful screening and documentation, having them aboard as crew of LNG tankers helps to alleviate security concerns.