Crew competence in managing marine fuel is paramount to safe and efficient ship operations

Maritime academy trainees should receive thorough grounding in bunker management before going to sea

By Chee Khin David Wong, DNV Petroleum Services – Via DNV

Singapore – Crew competence is failing to keep pace with the development in ship operations, even as advancement in technology and design is giving rise to progressively sophisticated vessels with greater efficiency and environmental-friendly features.

DNV believes this is an important cause of the reverse trend in ship safety today.

Among the areas of improvement, effective bunker management as a basic requirement for safe vessel operations is particularly lacking attention, says DNV Petroleum Services (DNVPS) regional manager Bill Stamatopoulos.
“We see a major problem with young seafarers working on a big ship and not knowing enough about fuel quality, bunkering procedures or proper fuel handling. Very few of them have seen how contaminated bunkers can cause the ship engine to break down suddenly and threaten the safety of everyone onboard, especially in rough weather conditions.”

Besides safety considerations, Mr Stamatopoulos says shipboard personnel must manage strict fuel regulations as well as the economic imperative of ensuring the right quality and quantity of fuel is received, given today’s high bunker prices.

IFO 380, the most common heavy fuel grade used by commercial vessels, averages US$650 per tonne, compared to less than US$500 per tonne in 2010.

Current fuel regulations include MARPOL Annex VI, with a global fuel sulphur cap of 4.50% and a 1.00% limit in the Baltic Sea and North Sea Emission Control Areas (ECAs).

From Jan 1, 2012, the global sulphur cap will be reduced to 3.50%.

The North American ECA will also enter into force on Aug 1 next year, with the likelihood of raising demand for the more expensive low sulphur fuel products. This in turn will add to the fuel expenses of shipping companies trading in the ECAs.

In addition to MARPOL Annex VI, the EU Directive 2005/33/EC requires ships in the EU community ports and inland waterways to use fuel with a sulphur content not exceeding 0.1%.

“It’s vitally important for the ship crew to know how to get the most out of their fuel – safely and without contravening the applicable fuel regulations,” says Mr Stamatopoulos, adding that “training and competence development in bunker management must start in school, not on the vessel.”

Upon entering the industry, shipboard personnel should undergo regular competence assessment and continual training to keep abreast of changes in the operating environment.

“Most important of all, their employers – the shipping companies – must invest in a strong safety culture,” Mr. Stamatopoulos says.

Committed to sharing its knowledge and expertise in marine fuel, DNVPS has been providing pro bono training to maritime academies in Greece, Norway, Russia and Singapore.

Mr Stamatopoulos and his team this year have conducted courses for graduating students from the Merchant Marine Academy of Makedonias in Thessaloniki and the Merchant Marine Academy of Aspropyrgos in Athens.

Source: DNV