Singapore: the leading bunker hub

It is a fact that bunkering market is a part of shipping industry which grows with a quick pace and ensures satisfying profits for the suppliers. Because of this growing market, some of the most important Asian, American and European ports are seeing an economic prosperity during the last decades.

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Singapore port dominates in the list of the most important ports, concerning the bunkering operations, possessing the first place, with annual sales around 42 million mt. Other significant ports are: Fujairah in the U.A.E. (24 million mt), Rotterdam (6.5 million mt), Hong Kong (74 million mt) and Antwerp (6.5 million mt). Satisfactorily are growing some smaller ports such as Bussan, Gibraltar, Panama, Algeciras, Los Angeles and Shanghai.

The hidden risks

Overall, the “bunkering” procedure, is a very demanding activity, responsible for numerous of accidents occurred in the past. For that reason, careful manipulations are needed by crew members who understand the process, have appropriate knowledge and acknowledge the hidden risks.

Apart from serious accidents possible to arise during bunkering procedure (onboard fire or oil spills), the crew should be aware of additional threats, not related to human life or the environment. Those risks have mainly effect on vessel’s machinery and derive from the use of contaminated or low quality fuel. This is an unfavorable situation for both the ship owners and the charterers, as any malfunction results to significant costs.

Quality problems on the rise

It seems to be reasonable enough -as long as Singapore holds a leading position in bunker market - problems related to the quality of the fuel to be arisen. This situation is the result of the big number of suppliers activating in the industry of this particular region, combined with financial profits.

In general, the users of Singapore port should respect the local regulations regarding safety and environment, be aware that it is possible to become victims of bunkering contaminants and thus be prepared to react properly when inadequate bunkering procedures are identified.

Lately, some incidents of bunkering contamination have been noticed, especially in ports of Asia rather than in those of North America and Europe. Recent witnesses describe problems on ships provided with fuel oil from Singapore port, accusing the suppliers for serious malpractices regarding bunkering procedures.

More specifically, these ships revealed centrifuges full of mud, clogs in the pipelines and overwhelmed fuel filters. Reports agreed on the hypothesis that contaminated bunkers have the same source in other ports that have been accused for contamination in the past, such as the US Gulf ports.

Bunkering issues in Singapore

Some of the most frequent incidents during the bunkering in Singapore are the following:

  • False density given in supplier’s BDN.
  • Under-declared temperatures during opening gauge and over-declared during closing gauge.
  • “Cappuccino Bunkers” or the bubbling effect as a result of compressed air blown into the delivery tanks.
  • High content of water in the delivered fuels, which means over 0.5 % v/v (according to ISO 8217 Fuel Standard) of water contained in the bunker fuel.
  • Gravitating of fuel, a practice that the fuel is transferred from high level to a low level by gravity during opening gauge.
  • Unauthorized by-pass lines fitted to the flow meter.
  • Mixing slops into bunkers and thus contaminants into the fuel delivery.
  • Sounding book’s tables modified in order to satisfy the supplier’s benefits.
  • Tampering of the sounding tapes.

Best practices

The above-mentioned incidents underline that the vessel personnel should care about the rights of both shipowners and charterers and participate in the bunkering procedure, supervising and reporting any problem that may arise and thus, the following tips should be taken into account:

  • Ensure that true quantities are mentioned on the BDN equipment.
  • The temperatures of fuel tanks should be checked and recorded not only during bunkering operations but also in a periodic basis.
  • A resounding of the tanks to be occurred before bunkering is useful for preventing the gravitating of fuels it is useful
  • The equipment which is used at the measuring operations should be tested and the validity of calibration certificates should be checked.
  • Always ensure that there are not any suspicious by-pass lines after the flow meters and for the sounding tapes there should be followed a tank re-gauging if in doubt.

Additionally, to the above practices, one of the most important preventive actions is raising crew awareness. In this regard, the company has the responsibility to provide appropriate training for both the vessel and office employees regarding the issues they are about to face during bunkering procedures, the areas they supply bunkers and the practices that should be followed during bunkering operations to ensure safe transfer of the fuel oil, without unfavorable oil spills and, of course, to avoid contamination.

Bunkering procedures should be included in the company’s SMS in order to establish the minimum standards of bunkering operations, emphasizing the importance of proper procedures, communication and monitoring before, during and after a bunkering operation and to define that the duties of each person involved in bunkering operation are clearly defined. Last but not least, in any case of doubt or any concern, the letter of protest should be issued regarding the arisen thoughts or incidents.