MFM system seen helping deter malpractice during sludge disposal
Mass flow meter systems installed on sludge disposal barges in China are seen to be helping deter illegal discharges of fuel oil, demonstrating that MFM systems can be used to prevent more than one form of “bunker leakages” experienced by ship-owners.
A major shipping company tells IBIA that it has already decided to take bunkers only from barges with MFM systems approved by the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) when lifting fuel in Singapore. The confidence this has given the company that it isn’t being short-changed when lifting bunkers, combined with improved efficiency because it saves 2-3 hours on each bunkering operation, has caused it to increase its overall bunkering volume in Singapore substantially.
There is, however, another area where shipping companies can experience fuel losses, which is when crew is deliberately colluding with sludge disposal companies to pass on perfectly good fuel from another tank on the vessel.
Examples of such illegal practices have been suspected and occasionally proven in China, where it is common for sludge companies to take sludge free of charge or to pay the vessel for sludge. In many other countries the ship has to pay to dispose of its sludge tank contents. Sludge disposal in Chinese ports is therefore attractive for shipping companies because it is cost effective, and also because some ports have very efficient sludge disposal services, using barges to collect sludge as opposed to trucks. Sometimes the barge company also provides manpower to support the sludge disposal operations.
The potential for crew colluding with sludge companies to pass on refined oil products during sludge disposal means ship owners may suffer “bunker leakages”. It also puts owners at risk of facing criminal charges for participating in oil smuggling activities.
The introduction of MFM for bunker deliveries in Singapore by MPA is both timely and well received by the shipping community. Exa Group observed this at close quarters and decided the MFM technology could help ship owners ‘plug’ other gaps in the bunker supply chain. So when Exa Group introduced its Sludge Disposal Management System solution in January 2015, adopting proven MFM technology and real time monitoring technology on dedicated sludge disposal barges in South China, the major owner was quick to start using them.
The result has been rewarding, according to both the owner and Exa Group. Within a week, one chartered vessel was discovered undertaking an unauthorized discharge of fuel oil during sludge disposal. Exa Group notes that the owner has been using the barges with MFM systems during its sludge disposal ever since.
Exa Group currently has two dedicated sludge disposal barges with MFM systems operating in key ports in South China. They are permanently installed onboard barges because using portable MFM units is not practical nor recommended for safety reasons, due to the frequently rough sea conditions, Steven Lim of Exa Group explains. He says Exa Group was the first in the industry to develop this solution for the collection of marine sludge.
“Our MFM system once installed onboard the barge will deter anyone from smuggling fuel oil through the system. It records quantity of sludge being offloaded as soon as the system is switched on and the pump starts running. It also measures the temperature, the flow rate and the density. Having a permanent installation ensures that the recorded parameters are within the same controlled environment. The MFM reading results are dependable and reliable.” Lim says.
By using MFMs with the Field Data Management System, Exa Group says it can determine the difference between oil and sludge by looking at density, temperature and other diagnostics information provided by the meter. “The density of fuel oil is very constant and it is not erratic like sludge. The other way is to look at temperature. You need higher heat to reduce the viscosity of sludge,” Lim explains. “We know that through this system, any unauthorized discharge of fuel oil can be effectively detected and prevented.”
Exa Group and the major shipping company telling IBIA about the use of MFM systems on the sludge disposal barges feel confident it has helped to eliminate losses of fuel oil through the sludge disposal process.
“This is critical to ensure that there is no leakage within the whole fuel oil supply chain for ship owners, especially during this period when overall market conditions are challenging and tough,” a representative for the shipping company concludes.