P&I Club sheds light on botched bunkering operation

Loss prevention director highlights what went wrong

P&I Club sheds light on botched bunkering operation


By Terry Gangcuangco

“Poorly planned” – that’s how UK P&I Club loss prevention director Stuart Edmonston described a botched bunkering operation that resulted in a bunker spill, and here we bring you his insights into what went wrong.

In the highlighted incident, a bulk carrier was to bunker 215 metric tons of intermediate fuel oil from a supply barge, with the bunkers set to be received in two empty topside tanks, the capacity of which is 200 cubic metres each.

Citing the safety management system (SMS) procedures for the bunkering operation, Edmonston noted that bunker tanks were not to be filled in excess of 85% capacity which corresponded to a minimum ullage of 55cm.

“The task of performing the bunkering operation was delegated by the chief engineer to the third engineer,” said the loss prevention director. “Once the bunker transfer hose was connected, the operation started at 3:20pm filling only the starboard side tank. At 4.30pm, the third engineer recorded the ullage of the tanker at 51cm, and yet bunkering operations continued.

“At 4:35pm he saw the ullage had reduced to 35cm. He rushed to the engine room to divert the bunkers into the empty port side tank, but by the time he reached the valve station, the starboard side tank was already overflowing on deck with oil spilling overboard.”

In Edmonston’s view, a “serious neglect” of the company SMS procedures caused the mishap.

He added: “The chief engineer completed the bunkering checklist on his office PC instead of doing it with the participation of the third engineer at the site of the job, resulting in some checks being overlooked.

“The failure of the third engineer to closely monitor the filling of the tank and his lack of awareness of the minimum ullage figure led to a critical loss of control. This was compounded by his lack of support and radio communication with other crew or bunker barge personnel during the operation.”

It’s also worth noting that the drain plug had not been fitted, allowing oil to escape at the forward ventilator. For UK P&I Club, unfitted drain plugs means a save-all isn’t a save-all.

Meanwhile the marine insurer stressed that SMS procedures should be followed at all times when performing bunkering operations and that the checklist completion, which should be done on-site, must not be treated as a ‘tick box’ exercise.

UK P&I Club also cited teamwork and good communication with ship and barge personnel as necessary elements in bunkering, with the chief engineer carefully considering bunkering plans and discussing them with the team.

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