Kvaerner seemed an unlikely candidate for the order, as its main speciality was the construction of Arctic icebreakers and cruise liners. But for a brief period, the Finnish yard became a pioneer in the development of LNG storage technology. Its trademark 40-metre-diameter spherical tanks are a distinctive feature of the Adnoc carriers.

Now Kvaerner is preparing to return to the market, and once again is relying on its technological expertise to secure a share of new orders. ‘We have to compete, not on cost, but by building better ships,’ says Mikko Niini, vice-president of sales for Kvaerner Masa-Yards.

Under a succession of local and foreign owners, the Masa shipyard has been constructing vessels on the Helsinki waterfront without a break since 1865. When Norway’s Kvaerner took over the helm in the 1990s, the resources of the 280-metre-long covered yard were dedicated to the construction of ‘fantasy-class’ Panamax vessels, the largest cruise liners ever built. The finishing touches are now being put to the last of these, the $600 million Costa Mediterranea, before it is delivered to Italy later in the year. When the order is cleared, Masa and its sister shipyard in Turku will be turning their full attention back to the LNG market.

‘The first LNG carriers were built in the late 1960s, but until the 1990s there were only 100 or so vessels in the whole fleet,’ says Niini. ‘Suddenly the energy industry worldwide is keen for gas, and in the next two years we expect orders for more than 60 carriers. There is a huge demand now for LNG vessels.’

Despite its recent takeover by Aker Maritime of Norway, the Finnish operation has not only hung on to the Kvaerner brand, but also its reputation for developing new shipbuilding technology. ‘The Korean operators have managed to build up a large fleet and they have been very aggressive, with a very competitive pricing policy,’ says Niini. ‘It is unfortunate, as during the boom we couldn’t offer our own capacity. Now we are coming back into the market we have decided to offer something new and operator friendly.’

The four carriers operated by Adnoc have a maximum capacity of 135,000 cubic metres. At the time they were designed, Kvaerner’s introduction of a fourth storage tank was a major step in the development of the LNG carrier.

The yard is now planning further innovations. In addition to a fifth spherical tank, its new generation of LNG vessels will have their capacity boosted by a further 8 per cent by moderate stretching of the tanks. The new ships will be able to hold up to 145,000 cubic metres of LNG.

The new design also incorporates fuel-saving features adapted from the Panamax cruise liners, with modified propellers and a new type of cowling designed to reduce the weight of the ship. Traditionally, LNG vessels are run off the gas that boils off the cargo, but Niini says that this has always been a drawback for operators: ‘This means you have to use steam turbines, which in any other vessel were so inefficient that most of them were dismantled in the 1950s.’ The new ships will run on standard fuel oil, and Kvaerner has developed a closed-circuit system that will refreeze the boiled-off gas. ‘Altogether, the transport cost will be 20-25 per cent less than other ships, and the structural developments mean we are offering vessels that are 20 per cent bigger. There is an economy of scale built into these ships.’

Kvaerner will officially unveil the new technology at the Gastech conference in Doha in mid October, but has already started to ramp up its marketing campaign. The Gulf is the prime target. ‘We enjoyed an official state visit from Qatar in June, and we had the opportunity to discuss developments with several ministers,’ says Niini. ‘Oman is also expanding its gas development – we understand that four to six ships are in the pipeline very soon – and we continue our long dialogue with Abu Dhabi. The Middle East countries are showing a huge interest in buying these ships.’

Kvaerner hopes the latest Middle East push will also support its more traditional areas of business. There is little call for icebreakers in the Gulf, and attempts by Dubai to set up a regional cruise liner business have not proved successful. However, Niini has his eyes on other sections of the market: ‘Etisalat [Emirates Telecommunications Corporation] is expected to put out a tender around the end of the year for a new cable-laying vessel. As we supplied the last one, we will be watching that order closely.’