IBIA Annual Convention 2023: Navigating the future of the Shipping & Bunker Industry

IBIA Annual Convention 2023: Navigating the future of the Shipping & Bunker Industry

The 2023 IBIA Annual Convention in Dubai united industry leaders to discuss the Shipping & Bunker Industry’s future, focusing on innovation, digitalisation, and decarbonisation.

The IBIA Annual Convention in Dubai was a gathering of 250 bunker industry experts, offering a blend of insightful discussions and networking opportunities. The Queen Elizabeth 2, a historic ocean liner now a floating hotel, served as a grand backdrop, symbolizing the transformative changes in shipping over the last fifty years.

The week kicked off with Nigel Draffin taking a group through the IBIA Bunker Surveyor Course. This was Nigel Draffin’s second visit to the QE2 – the first having been as a Riversdale Technical College student in 1969, before the vessel had passed its sea trials.

The IBIA Annual Convention started with a cocktail reception on the Tuesday evening, and offered the opportunity for delegates, speakers and sponsors to network prior to the formal conference sessions on the following day.

Alexander Prokopakis, who, in his new role as the IBIA Executive Director, extended a warm welcome to all delegates, sponsors, and speakers. Timothy Cosulich, in his role as IBIA Chair, paid homage to his uncle, the late Antonio Cosulich, a former IBIA Chair. He expressed his sentiments, saying, “Many of you have met Antonio, and you know how special a person he was; very kind and generous, and always willing to help. I think we’re here not only to commemorate, but also to celebrate the possibility that we had in spending time with him. And personally, I feel very privileged having had the opportunity to spend time with him to learn from him, but also to have him as a role model professionally and personally.”

Mass Flow Meters

The increasing use of mass flow meters (MFMs) by the bunker industry was one of the major themes of the conference. With the port authorities at Rotterdam and Antwerp-Bruges having announced in October that they would follow Singapore in making MFMs mandatory for bunker deliveries from 2026, the IBIA convention saw wide-ranging discussions of the effect their introduction could bring.

Timothy Cosulich said the meters’ cost could be as little as $0.02/mt when considered over the lifetime of a bunker barge, and that his business had seen gains after their introduction in Singapore in 2017.

Martijn Heijboer of the Port of Fujairah said the Middle East’s top bunkering hub was considering bringing in a similar mandate, although the plans were still at early stages.

IBIA’s Edmund Hughes suggested that it will be the cost motive as much as the regulatory requirements that will drive the most uptake of MFM systems, with the need to count carbon emissions making accurate bunker delivery measurements critical.

“We’ve talked about carbon pricing coming; companies, when they’re going to pay the carbon price, will want to make sure they’re just paying what they need to pay and not anything else,” Edmund Hughes said.

“I think it’s going to become a commercial imperative as much as a regulatory one.”

Some questions were also raised over whether the licensing system at Rotterdam and Antwerp-Bruges would be robust enough to prevent attempts at tampering with the meters.

“The MFM is a device — if you want to find a way around it, you can,” Timothy Cosulich said.

“It’s the institution behind it — in Singapore that’s the port authority — driving the enforcement, the implementation of the rules and punishments and so on.

“My strong wish and encouragement for the port authorities of the ARA region is really that this enforcement is there, that the punishment is there for those that break the rules.”

In a pre-recorded video played to the conference, Thomas Ting of the MPA reminded the convention that Singapore is not finished with adapting its MFM regulations. The next stage of its plans will involve installing data-loggers on each bunker barge, automating the flow of data from the MFM to the regulators and further cutting down on human error.


The digitalisation of the bunker industry was another major theme under discussion, and one closely connected to the uptake of MFMs.

Kenneth Juhls of ZeroNorth Bunker, chair of IBIA’s digitalisation working group, presented the results of a recent IBIA survey on the topic.

The online survey was carried out in October, open to all industry stakeholders, and had 60-70 respondents.

Of those, more than 80% said they either had a digital strategy already or were working on one. Most also said they were investing enough in digitalisation, and that they knew which service providers could assist them with their strategy.

But when asked to identify the main barriers for a successful digitalisation of the industry, concerns over transparency joined ‘change management mind-set’ as the top two responses by participants.

They were also the only two choices selected by more than 30% of respondents, besting other options such as ‘solutions not good enough’, ‘lack of investment capacity’, ‘silo-thinking’, ‘complex operational business’ and ‘no existing standard’.

Transparency comes in many forms, and Kenneth Juhls noted a key factor for many companies is that their data is commercially sensitive.

“It’s clear that there is resistance to transparency; I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, obviously everyone wants to protect their business, and there’s a commercial edge in what we all do.”

Some discussions at the event also pointed to a level of ‘app fatigue’ among bunker buyers – with several major marine fuel firms now having their own digitalised supply offering, some buyers are now expressing frustration about having to log in to a wide variety of online services to procure fuel.


Finally, decarbonisation remains the largest elephant in the room at any gathering of the bunker industry.

With the IMO’s carbon intensity indicator regulation now in place, a revised global GHG strategy adopted this year and the EU’s emissions trading system for shipping around the corner, the reality of decarbonisation is starting to bite.

Simon Bennett, deputy secretary general of the ICS, set the scene with a warning of what faces shipping if it cannot keep up with its commitments on GHGs.

“The first thing to understand is that the governments are really serious,” he said.

“If we fail in decarbonising our sector, then ultimately we’re going to be faced with the rationing of maritime transport.

“As well as being a disaster for our industry, that will be a disaster for global prosperity.”

Cem Saral, CEO of Cockett Group, said we could see a change in the marine fuels supply landscape as alternative fuels come to dominate.

“Right now we have the three hubs of Singapore, Rotterdam and Fujairah.

“When we look 10-15 years ahead, at the alternative fuel landscape that we see today, such as ammonia, methanol and LNG, a significant portion does not overlay on the map we have today.

“We are looking at the global south as one of the key drivers of alternative fuels in terms of production.”

And Bunker Holding’s Maria Skipper Schwenn said she wanted to see more focus on the shipping firms slower to move in the decarbonisation race.

“Most of you here in this room that are involved in bunker trading are dealing with the second or third movers; by second movers I mean those that are just looking perhaps to do a trial of biofuel but nothing more than that,” Maria Skipper Schwenn said.

“And then third movers are the ones that are still just sitting there, ducking their heads and saying, ‘Oh, this will probably go away, we’re not going to do anything until you really force us to’.”

“These second and third movers, they constitute the majority of the world fleet; and not only that, but they’re also made up of small and medium-sized enterprises only operating about five vessels per company.

“For them to look into this huge regulatory hurricane just around the corner, it’s a huge elephant for them to digest.

“We’re not going to see this transition succeed unless we keep the second and third movers on board.”

During the Convention, there were several outstanding presentations from IBIA members. A highlight was Clement Sim, Marine LNG Business Development Manager at Shell, who captivated the audience with a detailed presentation on LNG and its role in maritime decarbonisation. Additionally, Filimon Antonopoulos, Managing Director of Tallon Commodities Ltd., delivered an insightful presentation focusing on the Management of Carbon Emissions and Fuel Prices in the Shipping Industry, further enriching the event’s discourse.

The IBIA Annual Convention serves as a vibrant platform for industry professionals to share ideas and gain insights during various sessions. Additionally, it provides valuable moments during lunches and coffee breaks for attendees to network with familiar colleagues, meet new partners, and engage in fruitful conversations. A highlight of the event was the Convention Dinner, where delegates enjoyed an exquisite al fresco dining experience on the back deck of the QE2, culminating in a delightful and memorable evening.

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