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Singapore bunker survey and marine refuelling ops adapt to effects of Coronavirus

27 Feb 2020

Bunkering operations at the Port of Singapore have been increasingly challenged by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) since late January, said several fuel buyers and a spokesperson of the Association of Bunker Industry (Singapore), also known as ABIS.

They noted that the Singapore shipping industry is adapting well to the changes and coming up with alternative ways to get the job done in most cases – as business goes on.

“The bunker survey and marine refuelling sector traditionally experience a slight fall in activity after the Chinese New Year, but this time the industry has taken a harder hit due to the combined effects of the Coronavirus,” Chris Lim of ABIS told Singapore bunker publication Manifold Times.

Lim, who is also the Director of Singapore-based bunker surveying firm HD Marine Services Pte Ltd, said the company has seen a decrease in business operations as a result of lower activity levels from shipping firms.

“Some shipowners have refrained Singapore bunker surveyors and cargo officers from boarding their vessels due to fear of crew being infected by COVID-19; even if allowed on board, we could be confined to a room and can only access to the deck and not allowed to walk freely or unaccompanied,” he explains.

“If surveyor is onboard the receiving vessel first, the barge might not allow ship representative and surveyor to board their barge for checking. Thus, surveyor can only get pictures from cargo officer.

“On the other hand, there are also cases where the bunker tanker does not allow surveyors and crew from the receiving vessel, such as those which sailed from China within the last 14 days, to board the barge. The crew of some bunker tankers are not even allow to go on board the receiving vessel to connect the bunker hose.

“In some cases, the documents are simply placed into a basket or even plastic bag and transferred from the bunker vessel to the receiving vessel by pulling a rope for the Chief Engineer to sign.

“The above restrictions, when encountered, have resulted in surveyors trying their best to comply with bunkering standards SS 648 and SS 600 as it is now a situation where the bunker traders, suppliers and shipowners are making the rules for surveyors who have to adapt and do what they can to satisfy clients due to the extraordinary circumstances.”

A back-to-back trader buying marine fuel for a Chinese logistics firm, meanwhile, says he has seen approximately 30% lower demand for bunkers from Chinese shipowners due to COVID-19.

“The effect for me is not so great as I am in between markets but what is certain is a slowdown in the Chinese market due to slower trade,” he said.

“This could be because of the increased hassle of logistics and increased time to clear inventory due to overall slower demand. Trade is just not moving as much.”

The bunker manager for a top 10 shipping firm notes COVID-19 has not negatively affected its fuel procurement or bunker supply operations.

“We have been engaging bunker surveyors to complement our refuelling operations. The fundamental is our marine fuel suppliers are credible partners. This has helped to minimise any potential bunker delivery issues,” he said.

“The engagement of surveyors ensure that we have real time communication and updates of any bunker supplies, especially when there is an exception. These surveyor companies have taken enough precautionary measures to ensure their safety and protection considering the COVID-19 issue.

“We understand the barging companies have also implemented their own set of precautionary measures to minimising human interaction. The good thing is we get updates about the approach taken by the barging firms and this help us to better coordinate with surveyors and vessel Master to ensure a smooth operation.

“Information is abundant; the only thing is what is the precaution taken by various stakeholders to not allow COVID-19 to spread.”

Sean Warr, Bunker Procurement, Louis Dreyfus Company says COVID-19 has led to more precautions taken during bunkering operations; however, this does not mean the firm’s vessels avoiding bunkering operations at Chinese ports.

“We still lift bunkers in China; however, there is now much less interaction between crew and barge personnel at Chinese ports,” he notes, emphasising on crew safety as the priority.

“There has been a lot more precautions taken these days and part of them include barge and crew members needing to monitor their own health and temperature for reporting to the relevant port authority.

“Crew members and barge members have less interaction between each other during the bunker operations and this has led to bigger unreliability on receiving quantity at ports where mass flowmeter technology is not used for bunkering.

“As such, we have found that the disputed quantity has increased during this period.

“The MFM would be deemed more reliable during this period than sounding methods due to the movement restriction between crew and barge personnel.”


Photo credit: Manifold Times
Published: 27 February, 2020

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