Kochi gears up to be a bunkering hub

V Sajeev Kumar | Updated on June 13, 2021

Ready to fuel: An oil tanker discharges its load at Cochin Port Trust   -  (FILE IMAGE) THE HINDU

Cochin Port Trust to start fuelling ships


Petronet LNG’s plans to start bunkering services — that is, supplying fuel to ocean-going ships — from its Kochi terminal will boost the Cochin Port Trust’s ambition of emerging as a bunkering hub.

The liquefied natural gas importer’s move comes at a time when the port’s bunkering business is growing at a fast pace.

The bunker sales of public sector oil marketing companies such as IOC, BPCL and HPCL through Cochin Port jumped 52 per cent in FY21 to 3,21,144 tonnes from 2,10,759 tonnes the previous year.

The port is banking on its proximity to international shipping routes to transform itself into a bunkering hub. Shipping industry sources said Singapore emerged as a top bunkering destination by extending various services to vessels travelling on the East-West shipping route.

The bunker demand at all major oil trading as well as bunkering hubs such as Singapore, Fujairah, Rotterdam and Antwerp are centralised at a single port. But the maritime cargo traffic in India is scattered at multiple ports along its 7,500-nautical-mile coastline.

This has resulted in the bunkering demand getting scattered in smaller volumes at too many ports. Oil companies have to incur additional costs towards transportation and port dues for positioning bunker fuels from refineries to the various ports scattered along the coastline.

The port is also facing multiple challenges in bunkering operations. Chief among them is the non-availability of South Coal Berth (SCB), which has been decommissioned for conversion into an ammonia import terminal for Fertilisers And Chemicals Travancore Limited. This, along with the Q4 berth, was used by barges for loading bunkers.

With the decommissioning of SCB, only the Q4 berth is available which is also used by ships for bringing in POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants) cargo and chemicals.

Due to the uncertain availability of requisite berths, bunker operators are cautious about taking orders as they are unsure about the availability of berths in advance.

The SCB is likely to be re-commissioned by late 2022 and until then the bunker business in Kochi will only be provided to vessels calling at the berths of the port, officials said, adding that the port was trying to resolve issues faced by bunker operators.

The bunkering demand at the 12 major ports in India is about 1.8 million tonnes which is less than one per cent of the annual global bunker consumption estimated at 300 million tonnes.

Petronet LNG is working on a bunkering project to shore up its business to tap into a growing demand from the global shipping industry for the use of green fuels. The company is assessing the marketing requirement of the number of ships plying with LNG as fuel on the international shipping route.

The company is even considering deploying bunker barges to offer alongside bunkering, considering the bigger size of many ocean-going vessels and its inability to berth inside the terminal.

Published on June 13, 2021

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