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Wednesday, December 12, 2018 

UK P&I Club, a leading provider of protection and indemnity insurance to the international shipping community, in partnership with international marine consultancy Brookes Bell, have published a guide on safe bunkering practice and how to avoid spills.

UK P&I Club claim records indicate pollution incidents relating to bunkering operations or internal bunker transfers continue to occur with worrying frequency.

Bunkering operations are routine and yet critical, high risk operations that require careful planning and execution in accordance with established shipboard procedures. The vast majority of bunker transfers are carried out without incident, however, things can and do go wrong. A loss of containment due to a tank overflow, or leakage from pipeline or transfer hose failure, may result in oil spilling overboard and polluting the marine environment.

The most common causes of bunker spills are improper set up of pipeline system valves, insufficient monitoring of tank levels during bunkering, excessive transfer rate or pressure, air lock, malfunction of valves and loss of containment from transfer pipelines.

Human error is also a major contributing factor, with many bunkering accidents attributable to crew complacency and fatigue, unfamiliarity with equipment, as well as poor communication on-board between the ship and barge.

Further to complying with detailed processes at the pre-arrival, bunker port, bunkering and completion stages, UK P&I’s guide advises ship owners and those serving on board to ensure the following general precautions are adhered to:

  1. Allow adequate safety margins when stemming bunkers. Stem only to 85% or 90% capacity, as dictated by the vessel’s SMS procedures
  2. Perform appropriate maintenance and testing of systems and pipelines, including calibration of remote tank gauges
  3. Provide suitable instructions for operation and for emergency response, including bunker check lists and a bunker plan
  4. Run regular bunker/oil spill drills to encourage familiarisation with bunker systems and procedures

Captain David Nichol, Risk Assessor at UK P&I Club says: “The maritime industry has made great strides to improve its safety record in recent years but despite this, accidents during bunkering remain all too common. This guide is designed to inform and reinforce the importance of following best practice to avoid bunker spills which can risk crew welfare, impact negatively on marine ecology, and result in heavy fines and even criminal prosecutions.” 

You can read UK P&I Club’s latest Risk Focus report on Safe Bunker Operations here:

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