HOUSTON, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Cold weather and outages at second-largest exporter Freeport LNG cut U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports last month below the December record, LSEG ship tracking data showed.

U.S. producers exported 8.3 million metric tons (MT) of the superchilled gas, down nearly 5% from December's 8.7 MT, which cemented the U.S. role as 2023's largest LNG exporter, LSEG data showed.

Weaker exports are set to continue this month. Freeport LNG said it expects one of three liquefaction units at its Quintana Island, Texas, plant will be out of service for about a month to address problems with an electric motor that appeared during the state's mid-January Arctic freeze.

Of January's exports, Europe remained the dominant receiver, taking 5.54 MT, or 67% of the total, compared to Asia's 1.42 MT, or 17%. Europe's share rose from December, when 61% of volumes went to Europe, while Asia's take fell from 26.6% the prior month, according to the ship tracking data.

Attacks by militants on vessels using the Red Sea and continued drought at the Panama Canal have led more LNG tankers to take a longer journey to Asia from the U.S., crossing the Cape of Good Hope.

Transit challenges at the Panama Canal and the Red Sea could lead this year to more U.S. LNG shipped to Europe or remaining in the Americas, with less going to Asia, said Ira Joseph, an LNG export and senior research associate at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy.

"You could have the situation where the market could be able to trade more efficiently without the risk of having to go through either canal," Joseph said.

In Europe, benchmark prices inched down to $8.7 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) from $8.8 mmBtu on the week. Asian spot prices dipped to $9.2 week-on-week from $9.6 per mmBtu as demand in East Asia was muted, consultancy Rystad energy reported late last week.

Latin America increased its share, to 8.1% of January shipments from less than 6% in December. The cargoes went to Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Columbia and Jamaica, according to LSEG data.

Freeport LNG has suffered a series of operating problems since it returned to full service last year following a fire and explosion in 2022.

"One of our refrigeration electric motors at our liquefaction facility experienced an electrical issue that will necessitate a replacement of the motor with an on-hand spare," the company told Reuters in an email. (Reporting by Curtis Williams; Editing by Richard Chang)