ADEN (Reuters) - Yemeni soldiers shot at a suspected al Qaeda suicide bomber on Sunday as he tried to ram an explosives-laden vehicle into a gas pumping station in the south, a local official said.

The official said soldiers guarding the facility, part of a $4.5 billion LNG project at the southern port city of Balhaf, fired on the vehicle as it sped towards them, causing it to blow up outside the station's entrance.

"The vehicle exploded before it reached the port and without causing any losses to the soldiers," the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters. He said the suicide bomber had died in the blast and that the facility was unaffected.

The LNG project has two production trains with a combined capacity of 6.7 million metric tons per year, with exports going mainly to Asia, and also to Europe and the Americas.

Yemen's gas and oil pipelines have often been sabotaged since anti-government protests broke out in January 2011, but this was the first reported attack on the heavily guarded pumping station.

The pipeline transports LNG from Maarib to the Balhaf export terminal, which opened in 2009 and is led by French oil major Total with three South Korea companies holding stakes.

(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Alistair Lyon)