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Maersk Turns On The Flow

Bunkerworld - September/October 2010

8 September 2010 - One of the most anticipated events at the Singapore International Bunkering Conference and Exhibition (SIBCON) in October will be the release of the draft Singapore Standard for mass flow meters by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the Singapore standards council, SPRING Singapore.

Regional Head of Maersk Oil Trading, Joshua Low Chin Chuan, highlighted the new levels of transparency and efficiency that this technology will bring to the bunkering industry. Although not a new product, the introduction of the flow meter into the marine industry came only recently, said Low.

“The Coriolis technology has been around for quite a long time,” Low told Bunkerworld. “However, the shipping industry has not utilised the technology until recently.”

Low said that flow meters were bulky, expensive and unreliable at the beginning.  However, this has all changed. “Flow meters are more reliable and cost effective today. That’s why shipowners such as Maersk are embracing this product,” said Low.

Transparency and efficiency

Low added that flow meters “make life easier for everyone” due to the increased transparency and efficiency which the technology offers.

“It’s just like driving your car to the petrol station where you pump your car. I look at the numbers on the meter and go to the cashier,” Low explained. “Likewise we hope to achieve the same process or procedure in the bunkering process using flow meters.”

Low explained that manual tank gauging, presently used by the bunkering industry for measuring the amount of bunker fuel transferred, needs to be executed by trained personnel. Flow meters, however, are less demanding. “Anybody can read a number from the display of a flow meter and write it down on a bunker delivery note (BDN), so that’s where transparency comes in. But for manual tank gauging, you need to attend a course to learn how to do so,” Low explained.

Seah Khen Hee, Chairman of SPRING Singapore, earlier told Bunkerworld that the use of mass flow meters could help increase Singapore’s bunkering capacity by one-and-a-half to two times, allowing faster turnaround and shorter port stays for ships and reducing administrative processes and costs.

Low agreed, saying that “taking readings off flow meters are much faster than using the manual gauging method, which is time consuming.”

Checking accuracy

In 2009, MPA and SPRING Singapore formed the flow meter Working Group, comprising of vendors, suppliers, barge operators and shipowners, to look into the possibility of implementing the technology in the industry.

Low highlighted that one of the reason for the trial was to carry out tests on the flow meter.

“Of course when you buy something the vendor will tell you that it’s good. But you have to test it under ‘real life’ conditions, to ensure that the equipment works as to that the vendor claimed. Then you can encourage the industry to adopt it,” he said.

Low added that MPA is actively involved in Singapore’s bunkering industry, spearheading projects such as this to introduce new technologies and to improve the standards in the industry.

“This is where MPA differentiates Singapore from the other ports,” he said.

According to Low, Maersk came in tobe part of the bunkering trial after committing to the purchase of 50 flow meters for its container vessels. In addition, Maersk is willing to cooperate with MPA and share knowledge of the flow.

The Ascenz Controller

Though the Regional Head of Maersk Oil Trading is enthusiastic about implementing flow metering technology, he said that purchasing a flow meter and installing it onboard the vessel does not represent the end of the story.

“Of course the centre piece of it will be the flow meter but you also need some accessories to complement the meter,” said Low.

Low said that even though a flow meter measures and reflects the amount of bunker fuel transferred during an operation, it is just a part of the solution.

“The other half is getting the information unaltered onto shore without any interference.” According to Low, the current practice of sending a person on a launch boat to board a vessel for the purpose of collecting flow meter data is “inefficient”. “There has got to be a better way than this, and this is where the Ascenz controller comes in. With it, we can use the device to transmit data from the flow meter directly to a website via satellite or a GSM mobile network without human interference,” said Low.

“We can log onto this website which Ascenz provide us and we can monitor the bunkering process 24/7 on a real time basis with many of my colleagues in Copenhagen and New York being able to access and analyse the data,” he added. “so to me the Ascenz controller is another essential part of the whole flow meter setup.”

The bottom line

Businesses thrive on profit and shipowners are often held back by the high prices of flow meter installation, which often range from $100,000 - $150,000 for a typical unit. This indicates a big investment for companies who own many ships.

Though Low agrees that the expense on flow meters is high with the cost being passed on down to clients and consumers in the process, he believes that any business doing a cost benefit analysis will find justifications in using the technology.

“For Maersk the two main factors driving force is transparency and efficiency, which are two very strong economic justifications,” said Low.

“These two factors will generate economic benefit for the user with the benefit being greater than cost,” he said, adding that flow meters should be adopted by the shipping industry.

“Anybody can read a number from the display of a flow meter and write it down on a bunker delivery note (BDN), so that’s where transparency comes in. But for manual tank gauging, you need to attend a course to learn how to do so” – Joshua Low, Regional Head, Maersk Oil trading.