Posted 3 years ago
Companies are now considering ship-to-ship (STS) transfers to improve the operational efficiency of vessels, particularly those carrying oil and gas, while easing the burden on container port terminals.
STS transfers are direct transfers from one vessel to another while both are at anchor. It may also be conducted while the ships are underway. This method is relevant in massive transfers of cargo between gas carriers and oil tankers.
Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC) and Ultra Large Crude Carriers (ULCC) often employ this method because these vessels do not unload cargo in just one port but in multiple locations.
They also address the problem of having ports that cannot accommodate VLCCs and ULCCs, which are known for their huge size and depth. Industry players look at STS operations as a solution to ease delays and traffic congestion at the port.
STS transfers are often utilized in foreign jurisdictions. While the Maritime Industry Authority in the Philippines has not yet discussed any plan on the development of STS transfers, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority is already looking at STS transfers and operations for the transport of clean fuel.
The Subic Bay Freeport in early 2017 collaborated with China’s Jovo Group Company Ltd., an operator of STS transfers of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). The Philippines plans to develop its LNG infrastructure in preparation for the expected depletion of the Malampaya natural gas field off Palawan.
Jovo’s STS operations will be assessed after a period of five years to determine if Subic Bay Freeport can accommodate these operations and if a regional hub is feasible. If successful, the regional hub will accommodate the delivery of LNG not only in the Philippines but also across Southeast Asia.
Subic Bay Freeport estimates that if these operations materialize and are sustained, revenues are estimated to increase dramatically. It was also reported by SBMA that several STS service providers were interested in pursuing the project.
Limitations on STS operation
Although STS transfers are economical and considered appealing to many businesses, this method comes with the risk of oil pollution at sea. Prudent planning and execution by trained crews are mandatory.
Although each vessel can have its own set of procedures during STS operations, the procedures should be detailed and based on international standards. Specific risks inherent to such operations should be considered as early as the planning stage. Transferring massive cargoes usually takes more than a day.
The International Maritime Organization, the International Chamber of Shipping, the International Spill Control Organization, and the Oil Companies International Marine Forum are some of the international organizations that prescribe guidelines and impose strict regulations on vessels engaged in STS operations.
Several regulations are already in place to ensure that each state adopts appropriate measures to combat oil pollution, leakage and spills.
In 2009, the Manual on Oil Pollution was published by the IMO. Section 1 (Prevention) of the manual requires that STS operations be under the advisory control of a designated master or an STS superintendent.
The duties of the designated person include ensuring that the provisions contained in the contingency plan are adhered to and that reports are given to appropriate authorities. He or she is also authorized to advise the termination or suspension of STS transfers and to review the plans for particular STS operations and transfers.
Another designated person will be in charge of inspecting the cargo transfer system prior to STS transfers and to ensure that safety measures, fenders, and moorings have been checked.
The transfer areas for STS operations are specifically selected by appropriate authorities, after considering traffic density in the selected area, water depth requirements during mooring and unmooring, safe anchorage available for good holding ground, weather conditions, proximity to sensitive areas, and security threats.
In 2007, the Philippines, in recognizing its international obligations, passed into law Republic Act (RA) 9483 orthe law “providing for the implementation of the provisions of the 1992 International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage and the 1992 International Convention on Having an International Fund for Payment of Damage Resulting from Oil Pollution, Providing Sanctions for Violations Thereof, and for other Purposes”.
The law aims to protect marine life and its environment. RA 9483 is enforced through several government agencies, such as the Philippine Ports Authority, Philippine Coast Guard, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.