SIBCON 2020: Stakeholders discuss what awaits the future of Singapore’s bunkering sector at session finale
Senior executives of the bunkering value chain discussed what lay ahead for the world’s largest bunkering port at The Singapore Vision – Bunkering 2030 and Beyond session during the Singapore International Bunkering Conference and Exhibition (SIBCON) 2020 on Thursday (8 October).
Singapore Shipping Association
“This session is an appropriate way to close Sibcon as we speak on Singapore’s position on bunkering,” said Caroline Yang, President of the Singapore Shipping Association, and moderator of the session.
Yang, who is also CEO of Singapore bunker supplier Hong Lam Marine, started the session by first highlighting the biggest issue for the maritime sector, which is the plight of between 30,000 to 35,000 crew members who are still stuck at sea due to Covid-19.
“It is important that our seafarers are treated as essential workers, and if we truly treat them as such, we shall do all that we can take concrete actions to facilitate crew change,” she said.
“We need a conscious responsibility and accountability on every single part of this chain for crew change: the ship owners, managers, operators, ship agents and most importantly the seafarers themselves. That we take all measures to strictly comply with the protocols for safe crew change. Please do not take short cuts and or circumvent procedures.
“Now that I have this off my chest, let’s go into the session proper.”
During her introduction, Yang noted Singapore’s total bunker fuel sales volume growing by 5.2% on year for the first eight months of 2020.
“Ten months into IMO 2020 has shown clearly that Singapore is one of very few ports that have a consistent and predictable supply of the different types of bunker fuels that ships require. This gives confidence to the ship owners,” she said while noting the strength of the bunkering industry in Singapore lies in its fundamentals.
“All the Singapore standards that are specific to bunkering has behind them the full strength and force of MPA; the MPA is possibly the only authority in the world that will take swift and stern action against any party not in compliance to the standards.”
She proceeded to ask the panellists if the recent commodity mishaps will create a long term impact in terms of trust in Singapore as a bunkering port, and if the tightening of credit will be a threat to the vibrancy of the local bunkering sector.
Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore
Captain Daknash Ganasen, Senior Director (Operations & Marine Services) of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), was first among panellists to speak.
“Achievements notwithstanding, we cannot be complacent and we must continue to grow and meet the needs of the industry. With that, let me touch on Singapore’s vision for bunkering 2030 and beyond,” said Captain Daknash.
He shared that MPA has three focus areas for 2030 and beyond.
“Number one, develop infrastructure for a future fuel mix to support decarbonisation; two, develop smart digital and autonomous bunkering operations; and three, continue to grow as a global standard bearer for bunkering,” he highlights.
“Those three points will underpin our effort to maintain our position as the world’s top bunkering port and support the industry’s needs moving forward.”
Captain Daknash adds that MPA sees the disruption from the pandemic as an opportunity to position and drive further digitalisation for the maritime sector.
As such, MPA and IMDA has drawn out a roadmap for the digitalisation of the bunkering industry via the Sea Transport Bunker Industry Digital Plan which provides funding for small medium enterprises to tap on pre-approved, digital solutions and consultancy services, among other things, to digitalise their business.
A recent Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) by MPA to form a ‘Future Fuels Port Network’ with the Port of Rotterdam Authority and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Japan is in line with the decarbonisation efforts of all three parties.
Captain Daknash’s presentation also covered the regulatory and reputational aspects of Singapore’s bunkering industry. He highlighted Singapore as the only port in the world that has a comprehensive licensing regime for bunker suppliers and bunker operators.
The licensing scheme requires bunkering firms to comply with standards to help boost safety and reassure ships calling at the port of Singapore of the quantity of marine fuel received.
“A good policy is one which can be effectively implemented. So first and foremost, policies have to be made with carefully considered outcomes in mind and how you intend to work with the industry towards implementation and adoption at the end of the day,” he explains.
“I think that’s critical in terms of policymaking. And that’s the main position I would say the MPA takes in coming up with regulatory policies.”
He adds that Singapore is the only port in the world to mandate the use of mass flow meters for the custody transfer of marine fuel for bunker tankers to the recipient.
“I think that by itself underpins the assurance we wish to convey to ships that call Singapore to take bunkers.”
Ocean Network Express
Richard Ho, Deputy General Manager at Ocean Network Express (ONE), started off his presentation by stating the Quality, Reliability and Predictability resonate with the Ocean Network Express core values and in its efforts to providing service satisfaction to its customers and partners.
He believes Singapore is a port with very strong fundamentals that allows bunkering processes to be carried out within the short port stay due to the standardized process, well-equipped logistics, and the support of the strong regulatory body mandating the use of mass flow meters (MFMs) for bunkering.
“It’s about having a reliable process that we can trust. To be able to use the mass flow meter as our ‘one single source of truth’. Overall, the authority has given us peace of mind.”
Ho said ONE did not see any issues with credit when asked about the recent pullout from banks due to earlier commodity trading mishaps. This is because of a very vibrant and well-developed bunkering ecosystem at Singapore port.
“The port has a lot of different bunker suppliers and even during this period we did not see any drop in the bunker sales volume and we’re able to get good bunker supplies here. We have very strong partners in the bunkering market and I believe the sector will continue to grow.
Equatorial Marine Fuel Management Services
Choong Zhen Mao, Executive Director at Singapore bunker supplier Equatorial Marine Fuel Management Services (EMF), concurs with the earlier panellists and believes the Singapore bunker industry has been very resilient to date.
“We are seeing healthy bunker volumes even in this time,” he says.
“Definitely, there has been a knee jerk reaction from the financial news but the truth of the matter is shipping is still the backbone of trade.
“Shipping is still the most economical way to move goods from one point to the other and bunkers is actually a very integral part of the supply chain so I believe these financial institutes will return in due time.
“And, of course, there’s always a silver lining that highlights the efforts of the bunker suppliers who are in it for the long run. We have invested in building trust with our customers by recently starting our own technology development team to help us launch a program to improve our transparency.
“This goes to show the efforts of Singapore bunkering companies, such as ourselves, trying to move towards digitalisation as well as a more transparent environment to build a level of trust for everybody.”
Wong Hong Lee, Chief Executive Officer at Singapore-based maritime solutions firm Claritecs, believes digitisation offers forward thinking bunkering firms a competitive edge.
“We see digitalisation as being key to solving the problems, including credit related difficulties, in bunkering,” he informs.
“Credit is becoming tougher for some to obtain and bunkering companies will need to adapt and look at how digitalisation can help them.”
“This can be in a form of using a digital solution to improve transparency and perhaps choosing to share certain information with banks for assurance that no fraudulent activities are taking place, or using a digital solution to assess alternative forms of credit.”
Wong further shares digital solutions, such as Claritecs’ BunkerMAESTRO, a solution aimed at eliminating operational inefficiencies while bringing all parties involved in bunker deliveries on a common platform, and its MFM auto-profiling software are able to help bunkering firms streamline operations.
“BunkerMAESTRO can be used to improve operational processes as the service automates bunker tanker scheduling operations to optimise fleet efficiency,” he says.
“It also offers data analytics to spot opportunities and risks, while keeping a proper record to share necessary information and relevant data with other stakeholders in a bunkering operation.
“This includes maintaining the level of confidentiality demanded by customers because we do know that confidentiality in commercial operations is very important.”