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Shipping sector renews calls for bunkering meters in Europe's key port hub

Highlights

Quantity disputes hamper efficiency

Singapore leads with Mass Flow Meter example

Regional jurisdictions complicate implementation

Delays and disputes over marine bunkering operations remain widespread at the key Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp ports, according to industry players, fueling new calls for mandatory mass flow meters in the European port hub.

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Disagreements over the volumes of marine fuels actually bunkered remain prevalent, industry players said, despite initiatives such as Rotterdam's bunker barge operator license system which came into force earlier this year to promote transparency and traceability of bunkering at the port.

As a result, a number of industry figures, including product tanker company Hafnia Group, have called for mass flow meters to circumvent these disputes.

"Antwerp has the same problem as Rotterdam and Amsterdam. A lot of time is spent on bunkering operations and quality issues. We don't see that happening in another significant bunker hub such as Singapore," Peter Grunwaldt, vice-president for bunker procurement at Hafnia, told S&P Global Platts.

Flow meters

The use of mass flow meters, or MFM, a more accurate delivery system designed to avoid quantity disputes, has been mandatory in Singapore for several years. Call for other ports to make them obligatory continue to gain pace while some operators have started to use them voluntarily.

TGF Marine, the bunkering arm of commodities trader Trafigura, has also called for mandatory MFMs and has already introduced them for its own bunker sales at Rotterdam.

"TFG firmly believes that customers should receive the bunker fuel that they have paid for, no more no less – and advocates a move toward the compulsory use of MFM in support of this," a company representative for TFG Marine told Platts.

The efforts of the Singapore Maritime and Port Authority has demonstrated how the active use of bunker licenses and MFMs can improve the quality of the supply chain and build trust in the industry, the TFG Marine representative said.

Industry body IBIA said on its website it had hoped the Port of Rotterdam and other ports in the ARA region would commit to making MFMs mandatory at the start of 2022. There was an ambition to do that during the consultation and planning period during 2019 and early in 2020 but at present it has proven too complex to set up a licensing scheme that covers the entire ARA region, IBIA said.

IBIA cited a plan on the part of the Port of Rotterdam to decide in 2022 on mandatory MFMs.

Work in progress

The Port of Rotterdam implemented its long-discussed bunker barge operator license system and announced the holders of the license earlier this year.

The license applies to the transport and delivery of residual fuels and distillates and biodiesel to sea-going vessels. The licenses are valid from Feb. 1, 2021 until Feb. 1, 2023.

"For the time being, there is no compelling or objective reason to make the MFM mandatory," the Rotterdam Port Authority said at the time.

The port declined to comment when asked recently about reputational damage arising from not making MFMs mandatory.

A spokesman for The Port of Antwerp said the port had no concrete plans to introduce MFMs under its local licensing system. "As a port authority, we do not regulate commercial elements. The players on the bunkering market are considered private, commercial players," the spokesman said.

Disputes over quantity and quality might cause reputational damage and the port is working with stakeholders to resolve related issues and form solutions, he said. One of the elements the port is working on is increased digitalization for bunkering, "to improve the accuracy and completeness of the data we collect," he said.

Bumps in the road

One complication in introducing MFMs across the ARA region is that crossing jurisdictions and industry sources have suggested MFMs would need to be implemented across the region.

"There needs to be a better license program for suppliers in place. I realize this is difficult to coordinate between different ports, jurisdictions and even countries, but we need to have more confidence in the procedures there," Grunwaldt said.

Even within one country, there may be problems, the Port of Antwerp spokesman said. "The eventual introduction of MFM is a complex issue that plays out beyond the port jurisdictional boundaries," he said.

In Belgium, the higher government is the appropriate body to implement any schemes or regulations such as MFMs, he added.