Large amounts of bunker fuel are consumed each year by the world fleet of cargo and commercial vessels as well as the military ones. About 80% of the total bunker fuel relates to heavy fuel oil and until the first large oil crisis in the early 1970s, shipowners did not pay much attention to where to take the bunkers.
The price was quite low, quality was generally high, and whenever possible bunkers was taken on board at port during cargo operations.
Later in the 1970s and during the early 1980s – when prices had risen substantially – more focus was placed on price and actual supply possibilities. Since then bunker prices constantly fluctuate due to market forces and the cost of crude oil. The bunker market became extremely price sensitive with ships often basing decisions on where to bunker on the relative price of fuel available in respective ports.
In the summer of 2008, the effect of high fuel costs has never been so important. At a time of rising oil prices, improved trading technology and ever stricter environmental regulations, it is by far the biggest expenses involved in running a fleet, which forced the world’s largest container shipping company Maersk to initiate slow steaming practices in order to reduce bunker consumption and total fuel cost. This was particularly relevant in the context where bunker prices quadrupled between 2001 and 2008.
Nowadays although the drop in oil price has led to a fall in operational cost of a vessel, bunker fuel – especially when the more expensive distillate is used in an Emission Control Area (ECA) is one of the largest operating expense incurred in a Time Charter voyage. With such high costs involved, it becomes imperative for the charterers to know the exact bunker quantity onboard at the time of supplying bunkers, Ship’s delivery or vessel’s redelivery and Ship’s Being “off-hired”.
For that reason Bunker Survey, also known as Bunker Quantity Survey (BQS), Bunker loss/disputes investigations, On/Off hire rob survey, or Bunker detective survey (221B) is carried out to accurately measure, and ascertain the quantity of Bunker on board at the specific time and forms a critical part of preventing bunkering malpractices.
The malpractices during bunkering operations though quite prevalent with bunker suppliers; but on many occasion the receiving vessel will be as much as involved as the supplier in these dubious practices. Often it is found that the vessel would under-declare fuel quantity which is then either sold back to the barge supplier or simply kept hidden on the vessel until an opportunity comes along to profit from this.
Since bunkers are sold by weight but delivered in volume, it is important to ensure that the right professional surveyor is appointed taking in consideration his important role in the bunker delivery process for containing bunker fuel losses. During this process where measurements has to be carried out diligently, failing to do so can compromise the owners/charterers’ rights and there are many factors that can contribute to errors like incorrect temperature, density etc. and these errors can be compounded quickly giving rise to large errors in the final quantity of mass delivered. In other words, the final results will only be as good as the surveyor who performed the calculations.
On the other side, loss prevention during bunker stemming largely depends on the hands-on approach and practical experience of bunker surveyors and in order to find concealed fuel someone qualified has to go on board the vessel and get their hands dirty essentially looking for magic pipes, altered pipe lengths, unauthorized connections, non-class approved or altered sounding tables, tampered gauging equipment, doctored fuel gauges, higher consumption from the recent voyage etc. An experienced surveyor can prevent the supplier from employing “tricks-of-the-trade” to cheat buyers because an investigative remaining-on-board survey entails finding hidden bunkers as well as the investigation of shortages or alleged “cappuccino” during bunkering operations.
Even when an approved mass flow metering (MFM) systems for marine fuel oil deliveries is used, the bunker surveyor’s role is still critical in ensuring compliance during bunkering processes, but in particular regard to MFMs, ensuring that meters are reset to zero before commencement of bunkering, and ensuring that there is no possibility of bypassing the meters.
The integrity of the measurement process relies on ensuring that the whole delivery system, and not just the meter, is completely secure.
It is the intention of this course to extend the student’s knowledge and understanding of the Standard Code of Practice for Bunkering – SS600 and make you a properly qualified expert in bunker surveying able to deal with the malpractices techniques.
Remember a bunker surveyor is trying to find something in a very short time that the Ship’s staff have planned and devised during the entire voyage. Surveyors may find resistance and abuse to demands like opening manholes, dismantling pipes etc.,