The world’s first purpose-built liquefied natural gas (LNG) carrier, the Methane Princess, entered service 50 years ago, in June 1964. Since then, the global LNG carrier fleet has grown to include 357 ships, with an average capacity of 150,000 cubic meters of LNG per ship (approximately 3,300 million cubic feet (MMcf) of natural gas), more than five times larger than the capacity of the Methane Princess. Today’s global LNG carrier fleet includes 14 Q-max class LNG carriers. The Q-max class carriers are the largest LNG carriers in the world and are used to deliver LNG from Qatar to various countries around the world. The first Q-max carrier (the Mozah) was launched in 2008 and has a capacity of 266,000 cubic meters of LNG, almost 10 times the capacity of the Methane Princess. The global LNG carrier fleet continues to grow. Many of the ships on order have a capacity between 170,000 and 180,000 cubic meters of LNG, or 3,800 MMcf of natural gas, reflecting the maximum size of ship that will fit through the expanded Panama Canal, due to be completed in 2015.
The Methane Princess delivered the world’s first commercial LNG cargo to Canvey Island, U.K., on October 12, 1964, and continued making regular deliveries of LNG for almost 20 years before being retired and ultimately scrapped in 1997. The Methane Princess and her sister ship, Methane Progress, mainly sailed between Algeria and the United Kingdom, supporting a 15-year contract to import LNG. Before the ships entered into service in 1964, several test deliveries of LNG were made on a prototype vessel, the Methane Pioneer. The Methane Pioneer was originally built in 1945 to carry cargo during World War II, but in 1958, it was converted to carry LNG. It had a capacity of approximately 5,000 cubic meters of LNG, equivalent to about 100 MMcf of natural gas in its gaseous state. In January 1959, the Methane Pioneer delivered the first-ever transoceanic cargo of LNG, from the U.S. Gulf Coast to the United Kingdom. The ship made the journey seven more times in 1959 and 1960, delivering a total of around 500 MMcf of natural gas, and proving that the transoceanic transport of LNG was feasible.