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Arrival of the First LNG Cargo at the Freeport Regas Terminal

 

April 15th, 2008

  6:45 a.m.
 
First light revealed a few dedicated fishermen dotting Freeport's 3/4 mile-long jetty. Huddled against the steady sea breeze and hoping to catch some redfish or speckled trout, they didn't notice a tanker sitting on the horizon. Four and a half miles off the coast, near the Freeport Channel's sea buoy, the LNG tanker Excelsior had just arrived from Trinidad and was at anchor.
   
 
 

The Excelsior was subchartered by Freeport LNG from Excelerate Energy for this first LNG cargo delivery. It is 909 feet long and 143 feet wide—a modest-sized LNG carrier compared to the Q-max class ships that would eventually be part of the tanker fleet serving the Freeport LNG Terminal. In its hold was nearly 135,000 cubic meters of LNG that would constitute the first cool-down cargo for the terminal.


The Coast Guard cutter Manta arrived alongside the Excelsior shortly after sunrise. The cutter's crew of inspectors went through a security check of the ship and its crew before allowing the tanker to enter the port channel and dock at Freeport LNG's unloading berth.

   
 
10:30 a.m.  
With the U.S. Coast Guard inspection complete, the Excelsior pulled up anchor and made its way into the Freeport channel at 8 knots. Securing its progress were several Coast Guard Defender-Class boats that ensured the channel was free of unauthorized vessels.

The pilot boat Freeport Pilot One had also left its Quintana berth to ferry a pair of pilot captains to the Excelsior. Their job was to supervise the Excelsior’s transit through the channel into Freeport LNG Terminal's unloading berth. At the same time, three tugboats had arrived to assist the Excelsior in negotiating the channel. Two of the tugs were new Z-Tech tractor tugs that feature 360-degree maneuvering thrusters. A fourth tug awaited the tanker at the mouth of the jetties.

 

  11:00 a.m.
 
After boarding the Excelsior, the two Freeport pilots took their place on the bridge next to the captain and first officer. The tugs positioned themselves port, starboard, and astern of the tanker with the fourth tug hovering close by. Along the jetties, a small crowd formed to watch the Excelsior's arrival: Freeport LNG employees and their families, press, Quintana and Surfside locals, and curious visitors who had happened upon a historic arrival.
   
 
  11:45 a.m.
 
At the turning basin off the terminal berth, the tugs activity went into high gear. The tanker was to be backed into its berth, so the tugs swung the stern of the Excelsior to the west, and began to move it towards the terminal berth. The maneuver employed not only the tugs' substantial horsepower, but also used the prevailing currents, tides, and winds in the channel at the Intracoastal Waterway junction. Slowly, the tanker was gently moved against the dock’s breasting dolphins, and the crew aboard the Excelsior and onshore Freeport LNG crews began to connect and secure its 16 mooring lines.
 
 
12:30 p.m.
The Excelsior was made "all fast" with its mooring lines just after noon. Throughout its stay, a computerized system would check and maintain proper tension in the lines as the ship reacted to changing water conditions. The first personnel to board the tanker at dock were U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, the terminal’s security officer and the ship agent to clear the ship for port operations.
 
3:30 p.m.
A Freeport LNG boarding party was given permission to come aboard in the afternoon. The group consisted of various terminal employees and Michael Smith and his family. This was a significant day for Mr. Smith, whose bold dream to start up a new LNG terminal was finally coming to fruition.
The Excelsior's captain, Serge Podolski, gave everyone a tour of the ship's impressive engine room and bridge and then hosted a welcoming ceremony off the wheelhouse with hors d'oeuvres and soft drinks to toast the successful voyage and delivery.
   
  April 16-18, 2008
 

With this inaugural delivery of LNG, the Freeport LNG Terminal personnel responsible for unloading the cargo continued to run tests of the unloading system and monitoring equipment prior to connecting the unloading arms. With an unblemished safety record during the terminal's construction phase, no one wanted to hurry this "last mile" before the terminal unloading system start-up.

   
  April 19, 2008
  3:00 pm
 

On a clear and beautiful Saturday afternoon, a contingent of crew from the Excelsior and the Freeport LNG dock personnel began the connection of the tanker to the terminal's unloading arms. Using a remote loading arm controller, the four arms were lowered, one by one, and bolted to the unloading flanges of the tanker. Over the next week, LNG was slowly admitted to the terminal. First, boil-off gas was introduced to replace the nitrogen that had previously been placed into the terminal systems to dry them out and purge them of oxygen. Then, small amounts of cold vapor and later LNG flowed in to the system to slowly cool the pipes without stressing them. After the unloading lines reached the desired low temperature, the cool-down process for the first storage tank followed the same cautious pattern.

 
April 30, 2008

When the Excelsior was empty, tank number one of the Freeport LNG Terminal was three-quarters full of minus 254-degree Fahrenheit LNG. On April 30th, the LNG tanker "cast off lines" and left Quintana to fulfill her next mission to deliver LNG.