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Bunkering 101 - Digitising the voyage

Singapore punches above its weight in the international scene on various fronts, including bunkering, which is the process of supplying fuels to ships for their use.

Did you know that while Singapore does not have oil reserves, it is in fact the largest bunkering port in the world? In terms of the volume of bunker fuel sold, the nation has ranked number one in the world since 1988!

In this three-part series, we shine a spotlight on some of the recent developments within the bunkering scene, bringing you direct insights from industry professionals.

With digital transformation set as one of the main goals of the maritime industry as a whole, we begin this series by exploring how digitalisation has and will be incorporated within the bunkering sector.

Incorporated in Singapore in 1981, Hong Lam Marine is a well-established bunker craft operator in Singapore. As a service provider, their fleet of fully staffed tankers are primarily chartered out by their customers to perform bunkering within Singapore port limits, and the transportation of chemicals and other products within Asia and to the Middle East. Advancing to their next stage of growth, Hong Lam Marine has begun their move towards digitalisation and its incorporation into their business.

Mr Tay Ket An, Director of Operations and Marine Personnel from Hong Lam Marine shares more about his work, the company and how they are using digitalisation to move into the future.

1) How did you get into the bunkering industry?

I joined Hong Lam Marine (HLM) back in 2005, where I started out in the Safety Department. I was gradually given an opportunity to take on even more technical work, starting with looking into the company’s ISO 9001 system accreditation – an operations quality management system. It was my first job right after NS and I have been with the company since.

2) Tell us about your work at Hong Lam Marine

I started working in the early days as an Assistant in the Safety Department, moved on to Chartering in 2007 after obtaining my Specialised Diploma in Ship Management and Law, then went on to Crewing (now known as Marine Personnel) in 2013. I currently oversee both the Marine Personnel and Operations teams.

We have about 650 to 700 crew members working on board our ships at any given time, and the Marine Personnel team takes care of everything from their recruitment to welfare. This is also strongly linked to Operations, which is the main core of the business. We charter out vessels for others to use, and try to ensure that the vessel trades without any stoppages, or minimise down time associated with technical difficulties, accidents or incidents.

My work is dynamic and I experience something new every day. I like that there are no textbook scenarios or end results, which keeps things interesting. The challenge keeps me going, alongside the satisfaction of overcoming challenges, as well as growing and learning from it.

3) What sets Hong Lam Marine apart from its competitors?

We recently won the Bunker Award at the Singapore International Maritime Centre Awards 2019, organised by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), and I believe that is due to our constant strive to get better in providing our services in the most efficient, transparent and safe manner whilst embracing changes through innovation and creativity.

We take on a proactive mindset here, as opposed to a reactive one. Back when I joined, the company was already looking at increasing fleet size and renewing the fleet, which allowed it to be well-equipped to capitalise on the booming years for shipping. We were also pioneer adopters for the Coriolis Mass Flow Meter System, having developed it with MPA and a key customer. This is one of our key value-add as it brings our customers greater assurance in our transactions.

4) How is Hong Lam Marine incorporating digital solutions in your operations, and what value does it bring the business?

Looking to the near future, the scale of digitalisation will change the landscape of how shipping businesses are run. We are gearing ourselves up for this and are already working on a few projects – for example, for fleet optimisation and an integrated fleet management platform.

These internal systems that offer greater transparency of data will allow the operations within the business to integrate more seamlessly.

I can envision that effective use of digitalisation will significantly reduce the administrative workload. This will free up one’s time to work on other tasks that add greater value. Through digitalisation, the output of an individual can be increased both vertically and horizontally; handling more work and across a wider scope.

For example, vessel locations and expected time of arrival (ETA) can be tracked on the system, freeing up the ship captain from having to manually update details at regular intervals. Customers will also benefit from the seamless processes, instead of having to go back and forth on the vessel locations and expected arrival times.

Ultimately, a business looks out for its bottom line, either by reducing its costs or increasing its revenue, and we hope to achieve both through digitalisation.

5) How will the nature of jobs in the bunkering sector change with the advent of new technologies?

Administrative and coordination work through excel sheets, phone calls and emails will soon be replaced with apps and programs that provide real time access, updates and alerts. Everyone will need a minimum level of tech proficiency in order to utilise these programs.

Additionally, as sectors become more interconnected and businesses explore new ways of adding value, we will need a large diversity of talent, skilled in all kinds of disciplines.

6) How do you envision the bunkering industry to develop in 5 years’ time?

The bunkering process will get a lot more efficient and reliable.

Currently, much effort is spent on coordination, in order to get a bunker tanker to the vessel for refuelling. A lot of communication between different parties is involved. However, with more sophisticated digital systems, tracking can be done in real-time, with changes easily viewable by all. ETAs will also get more accurate.

For those who are keen to take up new challenges, explore new horizons and be part of a vibrant, dynamic and growing sector, explore the Maritime Singapore Connect website and find out more.

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The Maritime Singapore Connect (MSC) Office is a national initiative, supported by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, to profile the maritime industry and connect students and jobseekers with the multiple pathways into the industry.

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