The authorities governing the majority of Europe's largest bunkering hub are planning to make the use of mass flow meters (MFMs) compulsory from the start of 2026, nine years after Singapore first started to impose a similar mandate.
Ship & Bunker first reported the decision to bring an MFM mandate to Northwest Europe a year ago.
Last week, officials from the Port of Rotterdam and the Antwerp-Bruges Port Authority held a meeting with local bunker-industry stakeholders to set out their vision for the change.
The authorities plan to make the use of MFMs mandatory for all bunker barges over 300 GT in size from the start of January 2026, three sources familiar with the situation told Ship & Bunker last week.
This will apply to both conventional bunker and biofuel blend deliveries, but not yet other alternative fuels.
The plan has yet to be finalised. Feedback on the initial plan is being sought until October 10, and the authorities intend officially to announce the strategy at the ARACON industry event in Rotterdam on October 19.
The Antwerp-Bruges authority's jurisdiction also covers Zeebrugge. Amsterdam -- the third major port in the ARA hub -- does not at present plan to join in with this strategy, but a source told Ship & Bunker other ports in the region beyond Rotterdam and Antwerp-Bruges were increasingly showing interest in it.
Some discussion in the market has focused on whether the implementation date could be pushed back by a year to January 2027, but a port official told Ship & Bunker they had not formally received a request to that effect.
MFMs are a more accurate means of measuring bunker deliveries.
Traditional tank soundings taken with a measuring tape are vulnerable to both accidental and deliberate misreporting of delivered volumes. The 'cappuccino bunkers' effect, where air bubbles in the oil give the impression of more fuel having been delivered than was actually the case, has been a longstanding problem in the industry, and one that can be eliminated by the use of MFMs.
Singapore used to be the bunkering location with the biggest problem of quantity disputes before it introduced its MFM mandate.
The city-state's Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) imposed the mandate for fuel oil deliveries from the start of 2017 and extended it to cover distillates from July 2019.
The MPA first announced the mandate in September 2013, without a deadline for the change at that point, meaning barge operators had more than three years of notice before the mandate came into effect. The timeframe between the Northwest European mandate first being announced in October 2022 and its coming into effect in January 2026 is similar.
But Singapore also subsidised the installation of the meters, offering a lump sum of S$80,000 ($63,500 as of April 2014) per fuel oil bunker delivery vessel to help cover the cost.
The authorities at Rotterdam and Antwerp-Bruges have no intention of offering a similar subsidy, sources told Ship & Bunker.
The biggest challenge in implementing this mandate will be in structuring the regulations around it in such a way that any deviation from the rules will result in a robust response from the authorities.
In the years after imposing its MFM mandate Singapore had some cases of the systems being tampered with, but the city-state's tough rules for bunker suppliers and barge operators meant the MPA could ban those responsible from operating in its waters, discouraging other companies from attempting the same thing.
But Singapore's MPA has a unique position in acting both as a local port authority and a national regulator. The authorities at Rotterdam and Antwerp-Bruges will have a more difficult path in calibrating their rules.
Belgian and Dutch national legislation already sets in place the European Union's Measurement Instrument Directive, and the International Organization of Legal Metrology's (OIML) R 117 (2019) recommendations.
At present the two MFM manufacturers with products conforming to these rules are Endress & Hauser and Emerson.
These standards cover type approval, metrological requirements, integrity requirements, installation requirements, verifications and sealing and approval and certification of the MFMs. But they do not take on board a requirement to ensure the integrity of the system after installation.
Further national legislation may be needed in both countries to ensure any tampering with the meters after installation is caught by the authorities and results in a punishment harsh enough to discourage similar attempts by others.
While a licensing system exists for bunker barge operators in Northwest Europe, some have questioned whether the system is robust enough to ensure the integrity of MFM operations.
"When the ports introduce a mandatory system, they need to start a proper follow-up department with all elements -- not just leaving it up to the users," a source told Ship & Bunker.
"Verification, calibration, sealing and complaint handling need to be secured.
"It's a waste of money and time if it's a half-done job."