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Qatar may divert LNG vessels around Africa amid turmoil

(Montel) Qatar Energy, the world’s biggest LNG exporter, may divert its vessels around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope to avoid transiting the Suez Canal, amid increasing hostilities in the region, an Icis analyst said on Monday.

Three Qatari LNG tankers appear to have stopped east of the Bab al-Mandab strait, the entry into the Suez Canal, after signalling a course through the Suez Canal earlier, preliminary Kpler data showed.

“The tankers could be considering whether to divert south around Africa,” wrote Icis LNG analyst Alex Froley on LinkedIn.

Since 19 November, Yemen's Houthi rebels have carried out more than two dozen attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea, a major route for global maritime trade. While a US-led coalition has launched military strikes against key sites in Yemen, the Houthi attacks on vessels have already led some major shipping companies to take the longer route around southern Africa.

So far though, there have been no reported incidents involving LNG carriers, while Russian and Qatari vessels have continued to use the Suez Canal, as the rebels claim they are only attacking Israel-linked vessels in response to the war in Gaza.

The three vessels – Al Ghariya, Al Huwaila and Al Nuaman – dropped speed over the weekend and started circling offshore Oman, while another vessel called the Al Rekayya – which was returning empty to Qatar – had also dropped speed and paused in the middle of the Red Sea, Froley said.

It takes a Qatari cargo around nine extra days to reach northwest European countries via southern Africa compared with the Suez Canal, Froley added.

Qatar Energy could not be reached for comment.

Muted price reaction
However, the European gas market appeared unperturbed by the development, with the benchmark front-month TTF contract falling more than 5% on Monday to a low of EUR 30.20/MWh.

This was close to a near a five-month low of EUR 30.02/MWh seen earlier this month.

Delays to Qatari flows could be offset by more US LNG, especially amid a well-supplied European market, participants said.

“Qatar has not stopped producing or exporting LNG, but its vessels are likely to be awaiting instructions on how to approach the safety concerns regarding the passage through the Red Sea, transformed into a theatre of war,” wrote Francesco Sassi, analyst at the think tank RIE, on LinkedIn.

“This is certainly not the best awakening for European importers of Qatari LNG,” added Sassi.

Around 12% of LNG arriving in Europe and Turkey in 2023 originated in Qatar, according to Kpler data.