Bunker Fuel Inspections Dip As Ports Prioritize COVID-19 Restrictions


  • Sulfur inspections are set to drop as the focus has shifted to contain COVID-19.
  • Safe bunkering practices, crew changes and continuity of the global supply chain is prioritized.
  • Some port states have suspended enforcement measures.
  • Restrictions on ship personnel at some ports are also making testing bunker samples difficult.
  • IMO’s HSFO carriage ban transition is smooth with fewer glitches.

According to an article published in Platts, authored by Su Ling Teo Surabhi Sahu, the transition to the IMO’s global low sulfur mandate and the high sulfur fuel oil carriage ban has been relatively smooth so far.

A drop in inspections

However, inspections are set to drop as the focus has shifted to containing the coronavirus’ spread, with safe bunkering practices, crew changes and continuity of the global supply chain in shipping receiving more attention, sources say.

Some port states will suspend enforcement measures, a shipping industry source said.

There is also a reluctance to board vessels unless absolutely necessary because of COVID-19. So there have probably been considerably fewer inspections than if there was not a global pandemic,” he added.

Restrictions on ship personnel

Another shipping source added that restrictions on ship personnel at some ports is also making testing bunker samples difficult.

Our correspondence with port authorities these days are centered around COVID-19 preventive measures, the focus is definitely not on IMO 2020 measures, a Taiwan-based bunker supplier said.

This comes after the IMO last week said it had held an online meeting with representatives of the 10 port state control regimes which cover the world’s oceans. The regimes reported that the number of physical on-board ship inspections has fallen considerably to protect both port state control officers and seafarers, it said in a statement.

High-risk ships scrutinized

However, the IMO said that the regimes continue to work to target high-risk ships which may be substandard.

The respective roles of flag states and port states to solve this crisis, in terms of supporting maritime trade, are paramount, and can also be significantly assisted by the industry. At the same time, the safety of life at sea, the protection of the marine environment and the respect of seafarers as keyworkers must remain shared priorities, a joint statement by PSC regimes and the IMO said.

HSFO carriage ban

The IMO’s HSFO carriage ban transition has been surprisingly smooth, a source said. However, glitches still remain, he said.

The ban, which came into effect March 1, prohibits ships from having non-compliant marine fuel onboard as a bunker, unless the ship is fitted with a scrubber.

An industry consultant said there is still HSFO on some vessels [without scrubbers]. I am not sure if those vessels planned to use it or just could not get the fuel de-bunkered prior to March 1.

Some industry sources also said the shortage of manpower at shipyards due to the coronavirus pandemic was delaying scrubber installations, generating a backlog of work and affecting shipowners’ schedules for retrofitting ships with the technology.

This in-turn could make future compliance a daunting task as shipowners, opting for scrubbers for some ships, put in place arrangements to bunker low sulfur fuels for those, to keep operations going.

Other areas of focus

Safe bunkering practices and the issue of crew changes have also come to the fore.

Last month the International Bunker Industry Association offered practical guidance to mitigate the risk of infection during bunkering operations.

The key issues for any personnel involved in a bunker delivery — barge crew, ship crew, surveyors or agents — are to minimize touching surfaces which may be contaminated. The virus is unlikely to persist on bunker hoses, flanges, valve wheels etc. and in any case, gloves should always be worn in these circumstances, it said.

Meanwhile, individual ports and regional bunkering sectors have also offered their own specific advice and guidance in this regard.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, for example, among other precautionary measures, said that marine service providers should also consider additional steps including daily temperature checks for ship crew and shore personnel; reducing ship-shore activities by reducing ship-shore exchanges, internal and external audits, non-essential maintenance and other non-essential activities

Crew changes allowed in Singapore

However, it has allowed crew changes for cargo ships under special circumstances in the port of Singapore.

The International Chamber of Shipping, on April 8 in a statement, said it welcomed the guidance issued by the European Commission which calls on EU member states, in coordination with the commission, to designate ports around EU shores for fast-track crew changes, with adequate facilities for seafarers to undertake medical checks, quarantine if required by the country in question and transport connections onward to their home country.

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Source: Platts


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