The use of mass flow meters (MFMs) is set to become mandatory for bunker supply at the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp-Bruges in Northwest Europe.
The Port of Rotterdam and the Antwerp-Bruges Port Authority are set to work together to introduce the new regulation, the Port of Rotterdam said in an emailed statement on Thursday.
Ship & Bunker first reported Rotterdam's intention to introduce this change in October, with sources predicting an implementation date as early as the start of 2024. But the authorities at Antwerp-Bruges were not previously understood to be backing an MFM mandate for their own waters.
The port authorities will jointly consider which MFM systems should be used in the first half of next year, before then determining an implementation date.
"The port authorities are aware that this measure will have a major impact on the bunker market," the port authority said in the statement.
"Therefore, they choose an ambitious yet realistic deadline.
"The different companies in the bunker chain will be given sufficient time to adapt to this measure."
At present 40 of the 170 bunker delivery vessels operating at Rotterdam, Antwerp and Zeebrugge are equipped with MFMs, according to the Port of Rotterdam.
Bunker Market Backs MFMs
The port authorities commissioned consultancy CE Delft to investigate potential appetite for the change through interviews and surveys of market stakeholders.
"The conclusion is twofold: there are similarities between the two ports and there are structural quantity problems in the bunker market," the Port of Rotterdam said in the statement.
"80-90% of the survey respondents recognise the issues outlined.
"65% of stakeholders interviewed and over 90% of survey respondents see the introduction of the mandatory use of an official bunker measuring system on board bunker vessels as a solution to quantity problems."
The move will come as a significant strike against bunker quantity disputes in Northwest Europe. The Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp hub has widely been seen as one of the world's bigger problem areas for bunker quantity disputes since Singapore reduced these disputes with its MFM mandate from 2017.
Adrian Tolson, head of consultancy BLUE Insight, published research earlier this year suggesting that about 3%, or about $150 million/year, of the bunkers recorded as delivered at Rotterdam were never actually pumped on the ship.
Bunker industry body IBIA welcomed Rotterdam's MFM plans when Ship & Bunker first reported on them two months ago.
IBIA Director Unni Einemo highlighted the results of the survey created by the IBIA Bunker Licensing & MFM Working Group, which shipping industry body BIMCO takes part in. When IBIA and BIMCO jointly surveyed their members earlier this year, they found widespread support for further use of MFMs and bunker supplier licensing.
On a scale of 1 to 10, the respondents rated their support for bunker supplier licensing at an average 8.51 and for mass flow meters at an average 8.43.
The next question for the authorities at Rotterdam and Antwerp-Bruges will be around licensing for bunker suppliers. A key part of what has made Singapore's MFM mandate a success has been the use of its licensing system to make sure that the systems are all calibrated in the same way, and used correctly.
Rotterdam already has a licensing system in place for its barge operators, and is understood to be considering introducing a similar system for bunker suppliers within the next few years.
"The requirement will be included in the licence for bunker fuel suppliers," the Port of Rotterdam said in Thursday's statement, without clarifying whether this referred to the existing system for barge operators or a potential new system for suppliers themselves.
How MFMs Work
The meters measure the Coriolis effect -- the same effect that makes a flexible hosepipe move as water flows through it -- as a means of measuring the volume of oil flowing through a pipe.
The previously universal method of measuring bunker volumes, taking tank soundings using a measuring tape, could not compensate for the so-called 'cappuccino effect', where air mixed with the fuel -- deliberately or not -- would give the impression of more fuel having been delivered than was actually the case.
Singapore is the only location so far to have made the use of MFMs compulsory for bunker deliveries. However, authorities in other countries such as Turkey have made their use compulsory at terminals for barge loadings.
Singapore made the use of MFMs mandatory for fuel oil deliveries from the start of 2017, applied the same rule to distillates from July 2019 and this year announced the same requirement for deliveries of biofuel bunker blends. Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority provided significant financial support to barge operators to compensate them for the cost of MFM installations.
The possibility of other port authorities following suit from Singapore has been a regular source of heated debate in the bunker industry over the past five years. Industry body IBIA has been a prominent supporter of MFMs, as has bunker supplier TFG Marine, but other, less vocal figures in the bunker industry may see an MFM mandate in Rotterdam as a threat to their business model.
Some suppliers have been voluntarily installing the meters for several years, and have marketed themselves as providing a better quality of service as a result. But a universal mandate would allow for a level playing-field at Rotterdam, with everyone using the same measurement equipment.
One main concern prior to Singapore's change in 2017 was that the new MFM mandate would cause officially reported bunker sales volumes to drop as the data started to show the new, more accurate volumes. But this proved not to be the case; in 2017 Singapore's sales volumes climbed by 4.2% from the previous year to 50.6 million mt, the highest level on record.