* Limited availability drove LNG shipping rates to highs
* Prices falling as more ship supply becomes available
By Ekaterina Kravtsova
LONDON, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Inflated spot charter rates for liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers are easing as more ships becoming available, which could help increase LNG trade if Asian demand rises in coming months.
LNG charter rates are a key component of spot LNG trade, dictating the way the super-cooled gas is transported. Charter rates usually follow the price of LNG, which has fallen since September due to sluggish demand from Asian buyers.
Rates have remained high for most of this year, hitting around $195,000 last month.
Not many spot Atlantic cargoes have travelled east in recent months due to inflated shipping rates, with some companies having to arrange cargo swaps to reduce costs.
But as more vessels become available for spot charters, rates have dropped to around $160,000 per day at the end of November, shipbrokers told Reuters. One source said the spot rate for a modern vessel reached $140,000 per day on Tuesday.
Four ships became open on Monday for December charter, one industry source said, while another predicted that overall up to 10 will become available for charter this month, with more coming to the market after floating cargoes are unloaded.
Additionally, Chinese energy major CNOOC Ltd. offered late last month to charter out the British Emerald LNG tanker after it hired the ship from oil and gas company BP earlier this year, two shipbrokers in Singapore said.
Commodities trading firm Trafigura was offering the Gaslog Santiago tanker for up to three months from early December, the industry sources said.
However, rates are still higher than last year's level, between the months of December and March, when they were mostly below $100,000 per day.
"Shipping [rates are] very high, there is not much room for work at the moment," an LNG trader said, referring to how this had limited movements from the Atlantic to the Pacific basin.
Demand for early next year is still mostly from the Asia-Pacific basin, such as U.S.-based ExxonMobil, Global mining and resources company BHP and the Australia Pacific LNG project which are looking for ships to load from Australia-based export plants in the first half of January.
But some shipbrokers said charter rates will likely continue to fall, as supply could outweigh demand. (Reporting by Ekaterina Kravtsova; editing by Nina Chestney and Alexander Smith)