The Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) on Thursday (21 January) provided clarification towards queries raised by bunker suppliers and surveyors regarding the latest Covid-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) measures introduced at Singapore port.
The SSA was responding to a recent article published by Singapore bunkering publication Manifold Times where several industry players believe the latest changes could adversely affect waterfront operations.
Caroline Yang, President of SSA, addressed comments earlier raised by them; including topics related to Port Marine Circular (PMC No. 04), the seven-day restriction, contactless bunkering, sampling point, hose connection, loading operations, and crew licenses.
Background of PMC No. 04 of 2021
“The spirit of PMC No. 04 came about when Covid-19 cases involving shore-based personnel surfacing during the new year, including a case involving a Cargo Officer onboard NewOcean 6,” Yang told Manifold Times.
Almost at the same time, a Class Surveyor infected himself and his family with Covid-19 after boarding an oceangoing vessel, while a Harbour Pilot contracted the disease without any links.
“PMC No. 04 came in to protect the Singapore shipping community where we want to avoid an increase in the number of Covid-19 community cases to the extent where maritime sector has to come to a hard stop,” she said.
“Oceangoing ships [on a gross tonnage basis] coming to Singapore have increased by 1.7% on year in 2020 and not many countries, unlike Singapore, have introduced safe protocols to enable safe crew change.
“Our government has identified the maritime sector as vital industry that is too essential to stop. So, MPA, in consultation with the industry, have developed PMC No. 04 to ‘bubble wrap’ local shore-based personnel who needs to go on board vessel to work such as harbour craft crew, so they can safely continue operations.”
Seven-day Restriction for Shore-based Personnel
Yang sought to clarify Paragraph 10 of PMC No. 04 which seemed to have caused confusion in the local bunkering and surveying sectors where players questioned if the words ‘harbour craft’ and ‘pleasure craft’ includes launch craft.
In summary, paragraph 10 of PMC No. 04 states:
Shore-based personnel who have carried out a job on board an ocean-going vessel in the port of Singapore must not, in the next 7 days, go on board a harbour craft or pleasure craft, to carry out a job.
“To explain, paragraph 10 mentions the affected shore-based personnel are only restricted to carry out a job onboard the harbour craft or pleasure craft after working on the ocean-going vessel,” she says.
“Though launch craft are part of harbour craft, bunker surveyors are just using the launch craft as a means of transportation from the pier to the vessel and vice versa; they are not carrying out any jobs onboard the launch craft and as such are unaffected.”
According to Yang, the topic of contactless bunkering was discussed during a bunker craft community meeting on 7 January, 2021 where about 180 attendees were briefed on their responsibility to exercise diligence as well as possible new measures, so as to minimise the risk of their shore personnel’s exposure to oceangoing vessels.
The industry briefing was attended by SSA members which includes, ship owners, managers, agents. A separate industry briefing for SSA bunker craft operators, which forms between 85-90% of the bunker craft community in Singapore, was also held on the same day.
“Operationally, we have to adapt to contactless bunkering because we understand the rationale behind it,” she notes.
“We aim to minimise contact with oceangoing vessels crew as we are not sure where the vessels are from and where the crew change has been conducted. Because of that, we as a bunkering community have to adapt to contactless bunkering.
“To avoid cross-mingling, it would be prudent for the bunker surveyor not to move from the receiving vessel to the bunker tanker. The bunker surveyor will be sent the seals on the bunker tanker using an intrinsically-safe camera. To date, we have not received complaints from our members using this method.”
Sampling Point and SS600
Further, Yang pointed out SSA members accepting the flange of receiving vessel as the bunker sampling point; in accordance to Singapore bunkering procedures SS600, SS648 and international regulation MARPOL.
“This location will be the final binding sample. If you are a bunker tanker owner and are concerned with how samples are being taken it is commercial decision for you to appoint a surveyor,” she says.
“Other workarounds can be taken; sometimes if the bunker tanker is high enough you can watch the sampling process taking place, from the bridge. But it is clear the final and binding location for obtaining bunker samples is the flange of the receiving vessel.”
Hose Connection and SS600
Yang acknowledges the process of having bunker tanker crew connect the fuel hose to the receiving ship is part of the Singapore Standard Code of Practice for Bunkering (SS600).
However, the operation of having crew of a receiving vessel connect the fuel hose from the bunker tanker is actually a common practise at other ports around the world. Singapore is one of the very few countries still using crew from the bunker tanker for this task.
She notes the SSA Marine Fuels Committee was already in conversations to consider approaching MPA to change this practice, before Covid-19, due to safety issues.
“This contactless bunkering is introduced due to the Covid-19 and when the situation improves, we will engage with MPA on their views again.”
“There is indeed liability when a bunker spill happens due to the hose not being connected properly. However, it must be clear liability comes from where the fault lies and this is a legal issue unrelated to SS600.”
Regarding loading operations of bunker cargoes from Singapore-based terminals to local bunker tankers, Yang pointed out PMC No. 04 was targeted towards only contactless bunkering operations.
“As such, loading operations conducted at Singapore oil terminals are simply subjected to the safe management measures introduced by the Singapore government as terminal operator staff are all based in Singapore,” she clarified.
“This includes the locally based Loading Master and Shore Gang whose jobs are to connect the oil terminal hose to the bunker tanker; they are also the only staff from the oil terminal allowed on the bunker tanker.
“The above scenario only applies for Singapore-based bunker tankers approaching the local oil terminals; if the bunker tanker previously conducted an operation outside the Singapore port limit such as Tanjong Pelepas they will be issued a ‘Not to Land’ instruction for 14 days to protect the community.”
License of Crew
Yang noted, to date, the extension of license of crew has been given due to the Covid-19 without issues.
“The crew cannot come down the vessel due to the stop in crew change and thus can’t travel back to his country; so far the extension has not been an issue and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
TAKING THE OVERALL SITUATION IN CONTEXT
“Everything needs to be taken in context. We need to remember that we are in a pandemic crisis,” stressed Yang.
“Because of this, there will be the need for additional Covid-19 measures which means everyone has to bear increases in cost. If you do not pay for this increased cost and suffer from an infected bunker tanker which has to undergo quarantine, you may even lose your business.
“This is a shared experience across all sectors (not just bunkering sector). Businesses have acknowledged that is necessary to invest and spend for additional measures to in order to sustain their business operations or risk shutting down.
“As far as we are concerned, we are paying for costs which are necessary. The whole world is suffering and we have to work with constraints in the ‘new norm’. These are not peace times; we have a common global enemy in the form of Covid-19.
“PMC No. 04 came out as an extensive circular with many instructions. Many have different understanding and there will be various scenarios, questions and queries. We are now consolidating queries and seeking clarification from MPA on these.
“The right forum will be to go through industry associations and have consultation and engagement sessions MPA. That’s what SSA has been doing and we encourage any company in the maritime community to join SSA as a member to participate in such consultations with MPA on a regular basis. Not just on this Covid-19 crisis but also other regulatory matters.”
The Chairman of SSA’s Marine Fuels Committee speaks for bunker surveyors
Captain Rahul Choudhuri, Managing Director AMEA of international fuel testing and inspection firm Veritas Petroleum Services (VPS), was keen to provide his thoughts on the latest Covid-19 measures introduced by MPA.
“There are already a number of circulars touching on best practises for Covid-19 measures issued by MPA throughout last year and these should be followed, while PMC No. 04 carries on the good work by MPA,” said Captain Choudhuri, who is also the Chair of SSA’s Marine Fuels Committee.
“As far as we are concerned, even post implementation of this PMC is going smoothly. The fact bunker surveyors are not going onboard bunker tankers is a positive safety development to avoid further Covid-19 incidents.
“Bunker surveyors are well able to monitor the bunker tanker meter readings such as zero verification, operational seals, and MFM meter profile remotely. One thing we noticed was sometimes details such as seal numbers are not as clear on certain photos; but this is part of a surveyor’s job to rectify.
“With a bunker surveyor present, witnessing of the sampling process is still fully compliant with SS648. There has been satisfactory communication with the Chief Engineer and bunker tanker and the role of the bunker surveyor continues very positively; even our largest customers understand these measures.
“We also saw some receiving vessels not wanting the bunker tanker crew to go onboard and MPA came in as an advisor to the SSA’s Marine Fuels Committee and after joint discussion we decide it will be best to appoint a surveyor if the receiving vessel of a bunker tanker is facing difficulty.
“From a maritime point of view, if the bunkering cannot be done then a proper statement of fact is recommended to record why certain parts of the operation cannot take place for given reasons.
“Surveyors can play a key role in bunker sampling. The MARPOL sample can only be taken from the receiving vessel and not the bunker. The position is clear. This has already been discussed since meeting last year and this was not something introduced last minute.”
Photo credit: Manifold Times
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