S Korea’s bunker operations return to normal as barge owners end week-long strike


South Korea’s barge owners have ended a week-long strike that had disrupted bunker fuel operations in the country’s south coast, the maritime ministry said Monday.

“Barge operators ended their strike as they reached an agreement with oil refiners over the weekend,” said Kim Byung-Nam, an official at the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries. “As the deal was reached on Saturday, bunker fuel operations have been fully normalized on Monday morning,” he said.

The Korea Oil Supply Shipowner’s Association had been on strike since midnight October 10, calling for an increase in operating fees paid by refiners.

About 200 of the country’s 680 bunker barges were involved in the strike at South Korea’s three biggest ports on the south coast — Busan, Ulsan and Yeosu.

The Ulsan and Busan ports are close to SK Innovation’s and S-Oil’s refineries while Yeosu is close to GS Caltex’s refinery.

The barge owners had held negotiations since Friday with the country’s four oil refiners — SK Innovation, GS Caltex, S-Oil and Hyundai Oilbank — mediated by the maritime ministry.

The barge owners had called for a 40%-100% hike in operating fees, but accepted the compromise of a 10%-20% increase in fees. In return, oil refiners accepted a government’s proposal for research to be conducted by external specialists on the level of operating fees and other conditions for barge owners.

“We hope the outside research would fairly reflect operating fees that have been frozen for the past 20 years, and this is why we decided to end the strike despite the lower-than-expected increase in fees in this negotiation,” said Lee Dae-Won, a director of the association.

The strike resulted in bunker fuel supplies being shut-in, with traders estimating last Thursday that inquiries were down by as much as 50% at affected ports.

The maritime ministry had arranged to divert ships scheduled to be fueled in Busan, Yeosu and Ulsan to other ports on the west coast, where barge operators did not join the strike.

Source: Platts 

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