The mandatory use of mass flow meters for bunkering in Singapore

From 1 January 2017, all physical bunker suppliers in Singapore must deliver bunkers using mass flow meters. 

Mass flow meters work on the Coriolis principle, which measures the oscillation frequency of the measuring tubes in the meter. The sensors, at the inlet and outlet ends, register the resultant phrase shift in the tube’s oscillation geometry and compute the rate of mass flow. The reading from the mass flow meters are for mass, not volume, and have been reported to be accurate up to a 0.5% variance.

Apart from more accurate readings from the mass flow meters, there are other benefits to their use:

  1. First, the bunker industry has always traded on mass (ie. metric tons), but measured the quantity based on volume (ie. cubic metres). The use of mass flow meters which provides readings in metric tons would improve efficiency and clarity.
  1. Second, without mass flow meters, the quantity of bunkers is determined by physical soundings of the bunker barges’ tanks. The accuracy of the soundings depend on the expertise, skill and honesty of the bunker surveyors. The use of mass flow meters eliminates any chance of human error.
  1. Third, mass flow meters eliminates the problem of “cappuccino” or aerated bunkers as they measure mass and not volume.
  1. Fourth, as physical tank soundings are not required, the time needed for bunkering operations is reduced.

To ensure the accuracy of mass flow meters and the integrity of their readings, all mass flow meters are calibrated in accordance with SPRING Singapore requirements, and approved by the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (“MPA”) before use. All mass flow meters are also required to be re-verified and re-calibrated by SPRING Singapore every 3 years. Finally, MPA requires the mass flow metering system to have no by-pass or outlets after the meter. If there are any, they are to be sealed, and all seals must be listed for verification.

When the mandatory use of mass flow meters was first announced, there were concerns that bunker suppliers would pass the cost of installing the mass flow meters to owners and charterers by increase the price of bunkers in Singapore.

However, it would be myopic to simply look at the price of bunkers without considering the wider benefits of using mass flow meters for bunker deliveries.

First, vessels will physically spend less time bunkering. Vessel would now actually be receiving the full amount of bunkers ordered, and no additional stems would be required to top-up the shortfall. As physical tank soundings are no longer necessary, this would also shorten the time required for each bunker delivery. It has been reported that savings of up to 3 hours per bunker delivery may be achieved. The vessel can now earn hire on the time saved.

Second, there will also be less chance of quantity disputes.  As quantity disputes will be less likely, there will be a reduced risk of vessels being delayed due to quantity disputes. Further, less quantity disputes will also mean less cost incurred by P&I, which will benefit both the clubs and the members.

While the risk of quantity disputes is significantly reduced, it is unlikely to be eliminated altogether. In the event of a quantity dispute, MPA has listed the steps owners should take:

  1. Re-witness the meter readings.
  2. Re-check and re-verify all seals in the seal verification report are intact.
  3. Confirm there are no modifications from the piping diagram.
  4. Obtain and examine the relevant pages of the bunker meter totaliser log.
  5. Obtain and examine all certificates and documents in relation to the mass flow meters.
  6. Raise a Note of Protest if the dispute remains unresolved.
  7. Call MPA at 1800-BUNKERS (1800-2865377).
  8. Report to MPA with 14 days.

Singapore constantly seeks ways to differentiate herself from competitor ports to maintain her pre-eminent position as one of, if not the, biggest bunkering ports in the world. With the mandatory use of mass flow meters for bunkering, Singapore provides vessels with a faster and more cost-efficient bunker delivering process, and will continue to be an attractive port to stem bunkers.

Author: Boaz Chan