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Bunkering arrangement - Fuel oil handling safety guideline for cargo ships

Fuel oil bunkering is a critical operation onboard ships that require receiving oil safely into the fuel oil tanks, without causing an overflow of oil. With the cost of bunkers amounting to 50% of the total operating costs of ships, shipowners need to seek ways to monitor and control this vast expenditure continually. Typically, physical custody transfer of bunkers is made thousands of miles away from the contracting parties' offices, with neither buyer nor seller present during actual bunkering operations.

When disputes arise over quantity and quality transferred, investigations after delivery are usually inconclusive if the shipboard personnel of the receiving vessel is not correct and or fully informed and trained. Protests, legal fees, management time, loss of goodwill, stress all add on to costs with usually neither party concluding with certainty what transpired onboard.

containerships operational matters
Oil Tanker Safety Guide
The Chief Engineer should endeavor to prevent troubles caused by abnormal qualities, excess or shortage in volume, the difference in specifications, and the like of FO, paying great attention to the following items.
  1. . Confirmation on Bunkering volume (metric ton) and type of Fuel (IFO 180, 280,380, Bunker C, DO, etc.) are to be loaded.
  2. In-house ordering.
  3. Ordering to supplier. Confirmation of the ordering arrangement.
  4. Notice to local agent and confirmation. Items to be confirmed: Bunkering volume, type of Fuel and other specifications of FO, and suppliers name.
  5. Notice to the vessel about completion of FO arrangement.
  6. Notice to management ashore about completion of FO arrangement.
  7. Mutual confirmation between local agent and FO supplier. Items to be confirmed: Movement of the vessel, bunkering volume, type of Fuel and other specifications (including viscosity, sulphur content and density).
  8. Communication and confirmation between the vessel and agent. Items to be confirmed: Oil suppliers name, date and time, place, bunkering volume, type of Fuel, and other specifications (including viscosity, sulphur content and density)
  9. Mutual confirmation between the vessel and management company (if any abnormality exists in bunkering volume, type of and other specifications of FO).

Decision of Bunkering volume

The Chief Engineer shall calculate the bunkering volume based on the discussions with the Operation Section, considering the following items, and obtain the Master's approval:
A barge delivers fuel to a bulk carrier vessel
at anchor in Port Angeles, Washington.
Image courtesy: Dept. of Ecology, State of Washington

Diligence required

The ship's officers and engineers involved in the bunker must be diligent, alert, and has a common-sense approach. Proper temperature measurement can save thousands of dollars. The ship's "before delivery" quantity of the relevant tanks and also of the delivering barge/road tankers should be determined before bunkering operations. It should compare "final delivery" quantity with proper and constant monitoring.

After bunkering, the chief engineer will normally be requested to sign a Bunker Delivery Receipt (BDR) and in doing so, he should clearly remark that any a shortfall in quantity, failing which tens of thousands of dollars will be lost, will be compounded many times over to millions of dollars in just a few years for an average-sized ship.

Fuel Samples Essential

Fuel specification analysis is an essential part of an effective fuel management system. However, money spent on testing any sample will be wasted unless every effort is made to obtain representative samples.

The importance of obtaining a representative fuel sample during a bunkering operation acceptable to all parties involved cannot be over-emphasized. How the sample is taken is extremely important as "the results are only as good as the sample received" DNV's Dag Olav Halle noted in his speech at the Thome Ship Management symposium in Manila.

As bunkering fuel tend to be non-homogenous, samples taken during the same bunker delivery operation at different locations and times are often not identical, i.e., not deemed to be similarly "representative." A non-representative sample will result in analysis results providing misleading information leading to poor performance of ship's engines or damage to engines and in a worst-case scenario, endangering the safety of the ship, her cargo, and the lives of all crew on board.

Samplers for Sale

Approved line samplers are available from some international bunker sample analysis organizations like DNV Petroleum Services, for use at the point of bunker custody transfer. It would be reasonable for shipowners/ charterers/operators or even the bunker brokers to ask the bunker sellers and or physical suppliers to agree in writing at the time of contracting that the point of custody transfer shall be at the receiving ship's manifold.

In January 2002, an amendment to the Singapore Standard CP: 60: 1996 came into effect, which means that the custody transfer sample shall be taken at the manifold of the receiving vessel. Should a dispute arise, the custody transfer sample shall be the official sample for asserting the quality of the bunkers delivered. However, there is a provision that where it is impossible or impractical, the sampling may be carried at the manifold of the bunker tanker.

It would be prudent for shipowners and operators to provide their vessel(s) with appropriate line samplers and appropriate sample container/seals, etc. Usually, three, one-liter samples are taken, which should have secure labels and security seals with unique identification numbers. Each sample label shall contain the following information:- If the bunker supplier's representative does not wish to witness the sample, the master/chief engineer should make a note of protest. We advise against accepting labels already completed by the bunker supplier before bunkering has started, as this will destroy the evidential value of the labels. The supplier retains one sample, and one is sent to the laboratory for analysis. Here we suggest that the ship send the bunker delivery receipt and the sample to the laboratory. The vessel will retain the third sample, and we recommend storing it in a dust-free environment.

Separate Storage

Fresh bunkers received should be stored separately in segregated tanks on board the ship in the first instance. During bunkering operations, continuous drip samples should be taken and closely monitored. These samples should be sent to a designated laboratory when the vessel is under a "Bunker Fuel Analysis Programme."

Freshly delivered bunkers should not be used by the vessel until the analysis results reveal that all required specifications are met. Shipowners charterers should always consider appointing reputable bunker surveyors to protect their interests in any bunkering operation.

However, even if surveyors are in attendance, all relevant crew members MUST remain vigilant at all times and independently record all operational difficulties and discrepancies experienced. Such contemporaneous records will prove very useful in any subsequent disputes.

Preserve the Evidence!

In the unfortunate event that a dispute concerning the quantity or quality of the bunker does arise, preserving evidence will be of paramount importance. Assuming that the sampling procedures described above were followed and the information completed on the labels with the sample put into three different containers and witnessed, that will substantially assist a shipowner in any litigation. It is important to ensure that the bunker supplier is placed on notice of any claim as quickly as possible. Owners / Charterers should review their bunker supply contracts as there are usually stringent requirements regarding notification of claims.

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