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Bunkering 101 - Moving towards LNG

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 produce its own oil, 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 the impending implementation of a new regulation by International Maritime Organization (IMO) for a 0.5% global sulphur cap for marine fuels on 1 January 2020, shipping is looking for ways to reduce emissions of sulphur oxides (SOx) and greenhouse gases. One option is to adopt the use of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as a marine fuel.

Sinanju Tanker Holdings is initiating the use of LNG in Singapore’s bunkering sector. In September 2019, this bunker tanker owner, manager and operator took delivery of Singapore’s first LNG-powered bunker tanker. Separately, Sinanju, in collaboration with MOL, have been named as joint operators of Singapore’s largest LNG bunkering vessel, when delivered, in 2021. In recognition of its efforts, the company recently clinched the ‘Excellence in Bunker Supply’ award at the 2019 Lloyd's List Asia Pacific Awards ceremony for its pioneering efforts in LNG innovation for the bunkering sector.

For the final instalment of our Bunkering 101 series, the MSC Office speaks to Mr Desmond Chong, General Manager at Sinanju Group of Companies, to find out more about how the bunkering industry is moving towards LNG.

1) How did you get into the bunkering industry?

I actually studied Manufacturing Engineering in Singapore Polytechnic (SP) which had nothing to do with maritime. My maritime career started in container operations at Maersk Line back in 2001. I then went on to the Eastport Group and Kontiki Shipping to gain experience in ship chartering, ship owning, venture capital investments and business development to obtain a diversified portfolio in shipping. Initially, when the position at Sinanju came along, I was hesitant to take it up since it was in the bunkering sector which I didn’t have much experience in. However, I decided to go for it as I was eager to become more professionally well-rounded in the maritime industry. 11 years on at Sinanju, I continue adding value to a company that is poised for growth and advancement.

2) Tell us about your work at Sinanju.

As the General Manager of Sinanju Group, I lead Sinanju’s operations, commercial and business development matters locally and overseas. We have over 200 shore-based staff and crew members taking care of our modern fleet of 13 mass flow meter (MFM)1-equipped double-hulled bunker tankers. We also provide technical management, crew management and bunkering services to ships calling at Singapore.

Crew members of Sinanju Tankers ready to carry out bunker operations

I am a firm believer of looking at how we can do things better and that led to my involvement in Sinanju’s contribution of a Challenge Statement to optimise the scheduling efficiency of our bunker fleet for the 2018 PIER71 Smart Port Challenge. Subsequently, I mentored a number of start-ups through their acceleration programme. Amongst the many excellent solutions, Sinanju signed an MOU with maritime start-up Claritecs to implement “BunkerMaestro”, an algorithm-based decision making platform tapping on real-time AIS data to revolutionise our fleet scheduling.

Besides my daily work, I volunteer on many industry committees such as serving as the Chairman of the National Mirror Committee for ISO22192 Standard: Bunkering of Marine Fuel using the Coriolis MFM System and being a Maritime Ambassador appointed by the Singapore Maritime Foundation.

3) What sets Sinanju apart from its competitors?

Sinanju is on a constant lookout for new technology and operational practices to testbed. Some examples include our collaborations with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and industry partners where we volunteered our bunker tankers for testbedding of mass flow meters, trials on electronic bunker delivery notes and e-seals for bunker pipelines.

Over the past 18 months, we are pleased to have accomplished these milestones:

  • First to meet the stringent safety requirements and obtain MPA’s approval for concurrent bunkering at Vopak’s Sebarok terminal. This enables oil tankers to receive fuel from bunker barges simultaneously while loading or discharging at the terminal. This will improve port efficiency as it eliminates the need for the oil tankers to travel to anchorages for bunkering, reducing congestion and making scheduling of bunkering operations more reliable;
Simultaneous cargo loading and bunkering operations at Vopak - Sebarok Terminal
Photo credit: Vopak Terminals
  • First to own and operate a dual-fuel (LNG/ Marine Gas Oil (MGO) bunker tanker, “Marine Vicky”. The dual-fuel engine technology enables more sustainable and economical operations, with more efficient fuel consumption;

  • Sinanju, in collaboration with MOL have been named as joint operators of Singapore’s largest LNG bunkering vessel set for use at the Port of Singapore for ship-to-ship LNG bunker deliveries in early 2021;

  • Using BunkerMaestro, an algorithm-based scheduling platform developed by Claritecs that taps on live data to optimise bunker fleet usage and operations scheduling

4) What is the difference between the traditional marine fuel (bunkers) and LNG? Why are shipping companies interested in LNG as bunker fuel?

The use of LNG is considered to have significant environmental advantages. An LNG-fuelled ship reduces the emissions of Nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 85% to 90% (using a gas only engine), and SOx and particles by close to 100% compared to today’s conventional fuel oil. In addition, LNG-fuelled ships may result in a net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Besides LNG, there is also a growing interest to use Methanol and Hydrogen as a marine fuel. However, LNG has gained the most traction with increased LNG supply chain infrastructure being built around the world, its abundant availability, and commercial viability as a cleaner alternative marine fuel. In fact, as of the end of 2018, there were 782 LNG and non-gas carriers either using LNG as fuel, or being built with the capability to use.

5) What prompted Sinanju’s decision to order Singapore’s first LNG-powered bunker tanker? What are some challenges you expect in managing and operating this? How about the advantages?

As we are constantly on a lookout for new technology to progress and prepare ourselves for future trends, and there is a conscious decision to support Singapore’s vision to be a global maritime hub for connectivity, innovation and talent as part of its Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map, Sinanju recognised that we needed to prepare ourselves for the advent of using LNG as a marine fuel.

The 7,990 dwt2 bunkering vessel, Marine Vicky, Singapore’s first, will be powered mainly by LNG to deliver marine fuels to ocean-going vessels within local port limits. It is capable of delivering a variety of bunker fuels, with the exception of LNG, to receiving ships.

Singapore’s first dual-fuel powered bunker tanker, Marine Vicky, was named by Ms Quah Ley Hoon, Chief Executive of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, and Lady Sponsor of the vessel, in a ceremony at the Keppel Nantong shipyard in China

One of the challenges we face currently is the shortage of crew members with LNG experience for bunker tankers. To counter that, Marine Vicky will be utilised to train crew on LNG handling procedures and safety through training programmes at the Singapore Maritime Academy (SMA).

We believe this knowledge will hold us in good stead as we prepare for our upcoming role as the operator of Singapore’s largest LNG bunkering vessel, to deliver LNG as a fuel from 2021. Our aim is to be the first learner, first expertise builder and primarily to contribute towards the vibrant bunkering scene to safeguard Singapore’s status as the top bunkering hub.

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

Manually filled forms, piles of documents, using excel worksheets to schedule fleets has been the norm. The mandatory use of MFM kick-started the technological trend and we will soon be using such data to do trending, analysis, electronic bunker delivery notices, invoicing, fleet scheduling and more. We hope to do away with the administrative work and make jobs more interesting and efficient, with transparency and traceability.

7) How do you envision the bunkering sector to develop in 5 years’ time?

It would be a more multi-fuel environment. Traditionally, MFO 380cst and MFO 500cst make up 90% of Singapore’s bunker sales. In five years’ time, there will be increased usage of MGO, various ultra-low sulphur fuels, LNG and maybe even trials on using methanol. The usage of technology will also be more prevalent and the workforce will be better skilled. I hope to see an all-encompassing platform for the bunkering industry to link the oil terminals, traders, bunker operators, suppliers and other stakeholders together – so that information can flow seamlessly, efficiently and securely.

Would we see the advent of autonomous bunkering? Who knows!

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.

1. The Mass Flow Meter (MFM) is a device fitted on bunker vessels that measures the mass per unit time (hours/minutes/seconds) flowing through it. This new device and method of measurement allows for more efficient and accurate calculations of fuel deliveries – optimising turnaround time, enhancing transparency and deterring malpractice in bunkering procedures.

2. Deadweight tonnage (dwt) is the weight (in tons) of all the cargo, fuel, dry provisions, supplies, etc. carried on board the ship. One metric tons is equivalent to 1,000 kg.

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