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Gard: Bunker quality – do bunker suppliers have charterers over a barrel?

Singapore bunker fuel contamination reveals imbalance of recourse opportunities in bunker sale contracts between time charterers and other parties.

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Norwegian maritime insurance company Gard on Tuesday (10 May) published an insight to review the imbalance between the position of time charterer vis-à-vis vessel owners versus the charterer’s recourse opportunities under the bunker sale contract, following the contaminated bunker fuel situation at Singapore:

Charterer’s obligation to provide bunkers in compliance with charterparty specification

Time charterers supplying vessels with bunker fuel oil need to ensure that they meet the contractual specifications set out in the charterparty. This may include a general obligation to provide bunkers fit for purpose and suitable for burning in the main and auxiliary engines. 

The charterparty may also provide that the fuel complies with particular specifications or grades the most common of which is ISO:8217. There are various versions of this document and reference may be to a particular version or to the latest version at the time of supply. The latest dates from 2017and is due to be reviewed.  

All versions of ISO:8217 at Clause 5 contain a ’catch al’ provision to the effect that the bunkers do not contain any material in a concentration that is harmful to personnel, jeopardises the safety of the ship or adversely affects the performance of the machinery. 

Clause 5 is necessary because the specifications tested for would not catch material that should not be found in bunkers. For example, that is the case with chlorinated hydrocarbons recently found in HSFO bunkers supplied in Singapore. The compounds were only found by enhanced testing – GC-MS (gas chromatography – mass spectrometer).   

This catch all provision means that even if the bunkers supplied by a charterer test on spec under ISO:8217 Table 1 for distillates or Table 2 for residuals, the fuel can still be rejected if it contains any material that can render the fuel unsuitable or unsafe to use. 

Accordingly, owners have wide powers to reject bunkers and demand replacement. Owners can also recover damages flowing from the breach such as the costs of cleaning or even replacing the vessel’s parts/engines that may be damaged. This can be very expensive.   

There will, however, commonly be arguments about whether the bunkers caused the damage or if this was caused by pre-existing issues such as the owner’s failure to maintain the engines. 

If the owners choose to use the bunkers in the knowledge that it is off spec, there may be arguments that they have waived their right to make a claim (unless of course they have preserved their rights and/or obtained a suitably worded indemnity from the charterers.) 

Disputes over bunker quality can be time consuming and expensive, and the best solution is often for owners and charterers to take expert advice and seek a solution together.

Buyer beware - common limitations found in bunker sale contracts

Sellers' terms often incorporate fixed (often low) limits on sellers’ liability, exclusions for certain types of loss (e.g. loss of time, profit, indirect or consequential loss), and short time bars for buyers’ claims. The contracts will also likely include choice of law and jurisdiction clauses. 

The most common law and jurisdiction clause chosen in charterparties is English law and London (LMAA) arbitration. However, bunkers supply contracts often adopt the law and jurisdiction of the place where the bunkers are being supplied. 

Global suppliers often select US law and jurisdiction because supply of bunkers creates a maritime lien on the vessel supplied. In many instances, the validity of the particular limitations in the contract can only be challenged within the law and jurisdiction specified.   

The time limits for notification of claims may be so short that it is difficult to obtain test results and notify the bunker suppliers in time. This problem is amplified where bunkers are unsuitable due to a substance that is not part of the standard testing. In those circumstances, the contamination is usually only discovered when using the bunkers. 

For example, the chlorinated organic compounds (COC)found in HFSO stemmed in Singapore in the first quarter of 2022 were only discovered when vessels began using the bunkers and experienced blackouts, loss of propulsion, high exhaust temperature deviation and excessive sludging in the fuel system. The discovery of the problem may be beyond the short time limit within the bunker sale contract to notify the seller of the claim.   

Thus, while the vessel owner has a right to require the charterer to remove bunkers that are harmful, the charterer as purchaser may be beyond the time limit to make quality claims against the seller. In some cases the courts may disregard the strict time limits but this may be an uphill battle.  

Establishing a claim 

Despite the one-sided contract limitations, reputable bunker providers may accept responsibility for replacement of bunkers that contain contaminants that negatively affect the operation of the vessel if the charterer, or owner, has evidence from advanced testing of the contaminant. 

That does not mean that the supplier will waive the contract limitations with respect to the loss of time and other consequential losses. 

However, these limitations may be challengeable depending on the jurisdiction. In any event it is recommended that a buyer carefully consider bunkers terms and conditions and if possible, negotiate elements such as time limits for notifying claims and caps on liability so that they are more realistic. 

This is probably only possible where buyers are able to establish a relationship with bunker suppliers as the latter often insist on contracting on their standard terms and conditions. Notwithstanding the difficulty of negotiating terms, it is wise to review terms in advance and contract with reputable suppliers that agree to replace non-conforming bunkers without a monetary cap.  

Conclusion

Owners will often have provisions in their charter parties allowing for bunkers to be rejected if they contain impurities that make them unsuitable for use in the vessel’s engines, even if those impurities do not show up in the initial standard tests. 

The bunkers may be usable despite being off-spec and the parties may negotiate the terms on which they are used. In those circumstances owners would be advised to obtain advice from a bunker expert and seek protection from the charterers against unforeseen damage. 

From the charterers’ point of view, if the bunkers they were supplied with were off spec their recourse against the suppliers may be limited by deadlines within which claims have to be made and by a low cap on recoverable claims. 

If engine problems develop when burning a new stem, and there are indications that the bunkers may be at fault, it is important for owners and charterers that the bunkers are tested as soon as possible using enhanced tests. Fortunately the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) was quick to investigate the source of the contaminants in HSFO and have no further reports of fuel containing high COC after 31 March.

Authors: 

  1. Kunbi Sowunmi, Senior Claims Adviser, Lawyer, New York
  2. Marie Kelly, Vice President, Defence Claims, London
  3. Siddharth Mahajan, Senior Loss Prevention Executive, Singapore

Related: Singapore: MPA investigation traces contaminated bunker fuel back to source at Port of Khor Fakkan
Related: Singapore bunker contamination different from earlier Houston cases
Related: MPA: Glencore and PetroChina supplied contaminated bunkers to about 200 ships in the Port of Singapore
Related: Singapore Shipping Association issues statement to members regarding recent contaminated HSFO bunker cases
Related: VPS provides update on bunker fuel contamination cases in Singapore
Related: Bureau Veritas answers questions on Chlorinated Compounds in HSFO from Singapore
Related: FuelTrust: Latest bunkering contamination at Singapore validates need for early warning system
Related: VPS identifies potential bunker fuel contamination crisis unfolding at Singapore
Related: Gard members and clients find chlorinated hydrocarbons in Singapore bunkers

 

Photo credit and source: Gard
Published: 11 May, 2022

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Technology

SMW 2024: MPA partners with S&P Global and Bunkerchain in digital ship identity

MPA signed a MoU with S&P Global and Bunkerchain to use Singapore as test bed to trial and pilot use of digital ship identity in maritime applications such as digital port clearance and digital bunkering.

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SMW 2024: MPA partners with S&P Global and Bunkerchain in digital ship identity

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) on Tuesday (16 April) announced it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with S&P Global Market Intelligence and Bunkerchain to pilot the use of digital ship identity in the republic. 

The signing took place at the ‘Accelerating Digitalisation and Decarbonisation Conference’ at Singapore Maritime Week (SMW) on the same day.

The parties agreed to use the Port of Singapore as the test bed to trial and pilot the use of digital ship identity in maritime applications such as digital port clearance and digital bunkering.

Digital identity refers to the unique representation of an entity in the digital world, which consists of various attributes and data that distinguishes it from others.

“Electronic transactions may be vulnerable to various risks as such identity fraud and data integrity breaches,” MPA said.

“Digital ship identity plays a crucial role in making electronic transactions more secure, trusted, and efficient in the maritime sector. When deployed in tandem with electronic signatures, these digital technologies will eliminate the need for physical ship stamps and wet ink signatures, and accelerate the transition towards a truly digital, secure, and paperless operations.”

MPA, together with Esri Singapore, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s Institute of High Performance Computing and the Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine, Singapore, also developed a digital twin proof-of-concept of a methanol bunkering leak incident. 

“The digital twin runs on an interactive web application that integrates weather and ocean current predictions and AIS data to present visualisation of chemical plume dispersions in the event of a bunkering incident involving alternative fuels,” it said.  

“The capability can help enhance planners’ understanding of the behaviour of the plume clouds under various conditions and guide the development of safety and incident response plans and standards.”

The port authority also announced a collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), an Amazon.com company, to support the maritime industry’s digital transformation and green transition. 

MPA will tap on AWS services including cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), and digital twins to enhance the industry’s efficiency, safety, and sustainability outcomes. 

As part of the collaboration, MPA and AWS will develop the maritime Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI–ML) Digital Hub, the first-of-its-kind in ASEAN region. 

The AI–ML Digital Hub will leverage AWS cloud to enable the maritime industry to pilot innovative AI and generative AI (GenAI) capabilities to trial on the Green and Digital Shipping Corridors, optimising routes and fuel consumption, carbon emissions accounting, and just-in-time arrivals to help ships operate more efficiently, reduce greenhouse gases emissions, and enhance safety of operations.

A memorandum of understanding was signed between Mr David Foo, Assistant Chief Executive (Operations Technology), MPA and Ms Elsie Tan, Country Manager, Worldwide Public Sector, Singapore, AWS.

Related: SMW2024: 18th Singapore Maritime Week opens with ‘Actions meet Ambition’ theme
Related: SMW 2024: MPA to set up facility for maritime workforce to train in handling new bunker fuels
Related: SMW 2024: Singapore-Rotterdam Green and Digital Shipping Corridor partners to implement first-mover pilot projects

 

Photo credit: Bunkerchain
Published: 16 April 2024

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Bunker Fuel

SMW 2024: Singapore is preparing port for multi-fuel future, says Transport Minister.

‘Our industry has brought in new bunker tankers capable of bunkering higher blends of biofuel and methanol, paving the way for greater emissions reduction for vessels,’ says Chee Hong Tat.

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SMW 2024: Singapore is preparing port for a multi-fuel future, says Transport Minister.

Singapore has moved decisively to ensure energy and fuel resilience as international shipping looks to alternative fuels to meet global decarbonisation targets, said Singapore’s Minister for Transport Mr Chee Hong Tat on Monday (15 April).

In his speech at the Singapore Maritime Week (SMW) 2024 opening ceremony, he said Singapore is preparing its port for a multi-fuel future.

“Our industry has brought in new bunker tankers capable of bunkering higher blends of biofuel and methanol, paving the way for greater emissions reduction for vessels,” he said.

“MPA has also issued Expressions of Interest (EOI) for the alternative fuels ammonia and methanol over this past year.

“For our ammonia EOI, we have shortlisted six consortiums, and are studying their comprehensive proposals for the supply of ammonia for bunkering and power generation in Singapore.”

Chee added reliability and resilience also mean that Singapore upholds the highest standards for safety, efficiency, and quality. 

“Enterprise Singapore, through the Singapore Standards Council, has been working closely with industry partners to introduce national standards to support the digitalisation of bunkering supply chain documentation, as well as on methanol and ammonia bunkering.”

“As a major maritime and bunkering hub, Singapore is committed to continue serving as a trusted node for international shipping.”

Chee said this when elaborating on Singapore’s focus to grow the republic as a hub for reliable and resilient maritime operations, one of three important areas the republic will prioritise on growing its maritime sector. 

The other two areas are to grow Maritime Singapore as a hub for maritime innovation and as a hub for maritime talent development.

“Looking ahead, we expect some turbulence along the way, but we are confident that the global maritime industry will continue to grow,” Chee said.

“And Singapore as a hub port and International Maritime Centre can benefit from this growth and the opportunities it brings, including in emerging areas like digitalisation and decarbonisation.”

However, Chee warned Singapore shouldn’t take its success for granted and to continue improving productivity and competitiveness while staying relevant to changing requirements to be able to meet the needs of local and international stakeholders. 

“But we must not rest on our laurels, or make the mistake of thinking that these positive outcomes will happen on auto-pilot. A rising tide can indeed lift all boats, but the boat and its crew can only benefit if they are well-prepared when the water level rises,” he said.

Related: SMW2024: 18th Singapore Maritime Week opens with ‘Actions meet Ambition’ theme
Related: SMW 2024: MPA to set up facility for maritime workforce to train in handling new bunker fuels
Related: SMW 2024: Singapore-Rotterdam Green and Digital Shipping Corridor partners to implement first-mover pilot projects
RelatedSMW 2023: EOI for ammonia power generation and bunkering closing by 30 April
Related: Singapore gets its first dedicated methanol bunkering tanker “MT MAPLE”
Related: Singapore: Vitol Bunkers takes delivery of specialised biofuel bunker barge “Marine Future”

 

Photo credit: Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore
Published: 16 April 2024

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Biofuel

Banle Energy arranges B24 bunkering services for “YM Utility” in Yantian

Transaction supports the first B24 biofuel supply in Shenzhen and Yang Ming’s inaugural B24 biofuel bunkering supply in China, says firm.

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Banle Energy arranges B24 bunkering services for “YM Utility” in Yantian

Banle Energy International Limited, a subsidiary of CBL International Limited, on Monday (15 April) announced the arrangement of B24 biofuel bunkering services for Yang Ming's vessel YM Utility at a port in Yantian, Shenzhen on 14 April.

“By providing Yang Ming with our B24 biofuel bunkering services, this transaction supports the first B24 biofuel supply in Shenzhen and Yang Ming's inaugural B24 biofuel bunkering supply in China,” the firm in a social media post. 

“As a company actively promoting the use of biofuels, we are making a significant contribution to the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from international shipping.”

“The B24 biofuel blend, as indicated by a study, is projected to reduce approximately 20% of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions when compared with conventional fuel oil.”

As the firm focuses on expanding its operations in Europe, the firm added it will continue to forge strategic partnerships and explore new opportunities to provide efficient and reliable solutions.

 

Photo credit: Banle Energy International Limited
Published: 16 April 2024

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