30-09-2016

Singapore bunker surveyors hunt for alternatives amid mass flow meter rollout

bunker

Small to medium-sized bunker surveyor companies in Singapore are increasingly looking to expand overseas or explore other options as demand for their services diminishes ahead of mass flow metered or MFM bunkering becoming compulsory in the city-state from January 1 next year.

Mid-sized surveyor Lighthouse Marine & Inspection Service has taken the bull by the horns by expanding its operations into Dubai, Fujairah and Abu Dhabi in August, where non-MFM bunkering is still in demand, director Tanjit Singh told S&P Global Platts.

“We have a lot of customers from Europe and they said the standard of surveying in the Middle East is not as high as in Singapore, so we went there,” he said.

The company, which has 16 staff, began planning the move in January when it saw “business prospects were not good in Singapore next year,” he said.

Potential Inspection Services, which has seven staff, has also ventured overseas, opening an office in Hong Kong in August, director Daniel Phua said.

“There are more business opportunities in Hong Kong for bunker surveyors as mass flow meters are not mandatory there,” he added.

Frontier Marine Services, which has one surveyor, is mulling working in Hong Kong or Fujairah, its sole proprietor Aizat Hamid said.

The move to find new markets is based on industry feedback that some charterers may take on bunker fuel in Hong Kong or at Malaysia’s Outer Port Limits when MFM bunkering becomes mandatory in Singapore as they anticipate prices there will be lower, trade sources said.

These charterers believe the price of MFM bunkering in Singapore will be higher as barge owners will try to recoup the fixed and operating costs of the meters, even though this has yet to be seen.

HD Marine Services, which has eight surveyors, said it would move its operations to Malaysia if it could secure customers there.

“Malacca is developing its port; we hope demand for bunkers will develop and our services will be needed,” director Chris Lim said.

If branching out overseas is not feasible, bunker surveyors could upgrade their role to Authorized Verifier, said Potential’s Phua.

SPRING Singapore, an agency of the Ministry of Trade and Industry charged with helping Singapore enterprises grow, administers an Authorized Verifier Scheme open to any company wanting to take on the role of verifications and stamping of weighing and measuring instruments for trade use.

“This will reduce turnaround time and compliance costs,” said SPRING Singapore on its website.

SME bunker surveyors should also consider merging, Phua said.

“Smaller companies should consider merging to make use of resources efficiently and not undercut each other,” said Phua. “In the past, there was a trend in which surveyors decided to form their own companies after having worked for one; perhaps it is now time to do the reverse.”

However, small surveyor company owners said they preferred to rely on their own network for surveying jobs. “We are a small player, we don’t set trends. We’ll just wait and see what happens next year,” said a surveyor at a three-man unit.

There are 59 accredited bunker surveyor companies and 329 surveyors in Singapore, around 80% of which are SMEs, including 20 with 1-3 staff, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore’s website.

EXPAND SKILL SET

If consolidation was not feasible, bunker surveyors could do marine cargo inspections or loss adjusting, industry sources said.

For instance, a consignee engages a marine cargo surveyor to inspect for damage to crates of canned food, fruits, electronic consumer goods.

Specialized knowledge is required for perishable goods, which bunker surveyors could be trained in, industry sources said. A loss adjuster goes one step further and provides an estimate of the value of any loss.

“All this work supports marine insurance claims,” said a bunker trader.

“There are still jobs; it’s not to say there are none,” said a surveyor from Ouzo Marine, a two-man outfit.

Most smaller bunker surveying companies rely on bunker surveying as their sole source of income, but this is not enough as the bunkering landscape has changed, said Phua.

Instead, surveyors need to be more proactive about their future, he said, but adding it was a misconception that bunker surveyors had not embraced advances in technology.

In fact, mass flow metered bunkering require surveyors to perform new and additional tasks such as verifying the integrity of the mass flow meter system, checking the seals and the wire beneath the seal, and inspecting zero-verification records, he said.

Whether there will be fewer bunker surveying jobs in Singapore once MFMs become mandatory remains to be seen, but what is clear is that if bunker surveying companies do not innovate, a number will fold and exit the industry, surveyors said.

Source: Platts 

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