S&B ANALYSIS: IMO Data Shows 3.8% Global Bunker Demand Gain in 2021

by Jack Jordan, Managing Editor, Ship & Bunker
Friday December 30, 2022

Global bunker demand gained about 3.8% last year as the global economy started to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but total sales remained just short of the level seen in 2019, according to the latest data from the International Maritime Organization.

The data comes from a report set before this month's meeting of the UN body's Marine Environment Protection Committee. The IMO requires all vessels engaged in international trade over 5,000 mt in gross tonnage to report their fuel consumption via flag states.

The organisation says it has received data from 94.4% of these ships for 2021, totalling 212.2 million mt of reported demand, up from 203.1 million mt from 93.8% of the ships in 2020.

Extrapolating for the missing data, this would imply international bunker demand at 224.8 million mt for 2021, up by 3.8% on the year. The 2021 extrapolated total is about 1.8% lower than the 229 million mt seen in 2019.

The remaining volumes from ships smaller than the size limit or those involved in domestic shipping may be significant, meaning the true figure for total global bunker demand including these figures may be several million tonnes higher.

The demand recovery indicated by the latest official IMO data is in line with the 3.5% gain indicated by the market demand surveys conducted by Ship & Bunker and BLUE Insight of volumes at 17 leading bunkering locations.

Taking the survey data for the first three quarters of this year, 2022 is heading for a 2.6% decline from 2021's levels, meaning the global total may drop again to around 218.9 million mt.

The 17 surveyed bunkering areas accounted for 138.5 million mt of demand in 2021, or around 62% of global demand. As shown in the market survey, demand change at individual ports has varied considerably.

The slight difference between the official IMO global figure and the market survey figure may indicate the demand recovery across the primary ports during 2021 was slightly greater than elsewhere.

Breakdown by Product

Fuel oil sales jumped by 5% on the year to 173.6 million mt in 2021, diesel and gasoil gained 0.9% to 25.7 million mt, LNG jumped by 5.4% to 12.6 million mt and methanol sank by 83% to 13,031 mt, according to the data in the IMO's latest report.

Other fuel sales -- taking in ethanol, LPG and other fuels -- totalled 212,351 mt, up by 91.3% on the year but a still a tiny percentage of the overall total.

Biofuel blends with conventional bunkers appear to have been grouped into the fuel oil sales category.

That left fuel oil with a 81.8% share of the market by mass in 2021, up from 81.4% the previous year, while diesel and gasoil's share slipped to 12.1% in 2021 from 12.6% in 20202. LNG's share climbed by less than 0.1% on the year to 5.9%.

Breakdown by Shipping Segment

The IMO also breaks the data down by shipping segment, showing the different fates of the various vessel types during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Container ships topped the list with 61.9 million mt of bunker demand, up by 8.9% on the year. Bulkers saw a 4.9% gain to 58 million mt, while tankers declined by 5.9% to 41.5 million mt, the only declining segment in the list.

Passenger ships saw the biggest rise on the year, gaining 27.1% to 418,521 mt, while demand from cruise ships rallied by 4.5% to 3.2 million mt.