DNV GL has issued a new class notation for ship-to-ship fuel transfers, aimed at improving safety at LNG-bunkering facilities.
The notation sets requirements for LNG carriers and for barges equipped to carry and regularly supply LNG to gas-fuelled ships.
“The use of environmentally friendly gas fuels has increased significantly over the past few years, calling for a greater number of fuel transfer facilities on land and at sea, especially for LNG,” DNV GL Principal Engineer Yury Ilchenko told IHS Maritime.
“But ports have raised serious safety concerns over transfer operations within port limits, frequently deeming them as too risky. Many port authorities thus oppose efforts to increase the availability of gas fuels in ports.”
The notation’s specifications are now expected to ease ports’ safety fears, so that more LNG-bunkering facilities become available to the shipping industry.
The notation’s statutory survey involves detailed inspection of material and equipment, such as cranes and hoses, exposed to very low temperatures, alongside the standard regulatory checks on all safety and firefighting equipment, DNV GL told IHS Maritime.
Guidance under the notation covers aspects including the safety of gas bunker vessels, the quality of alarms and onboard bunkering equipment, and the operation of gas-detection systems.
Compliance with DNV GL’s new class notation will “increase the acceptance of safe gas fuel bunkering operations by ports and local authorities and put bunker ship owners in a stronger position in the market”, said Ilchenko.
He added that bunkering standards have “lagged behind” those for using gas as a fuel.
“The maritime industry has focused on developing standards for gas-fuelled ships rather than bunkering arrangements for them,” he said.
“A number of bunker companies have seen their applications for such activities rejected as a result. DNV GL recognised ports’ safety concerns and developed the new class notation to close this regulatory gap.”
Shipowners wanting to switch to gas as a fuel currently face both insufficient bunkering facilities and considerable safety issues.
LNG expert Captain Muhammad Shafique, a senior lecturer at Warsash Maritime Academy, told IHS Maritime that the LNG bunkering interface is “the weakest link” in the use of LNG fuel.
“Consumption of LNG is not a big deal, handling [it] on board or maintenance of it is not a big deal – you can learn to manage it – but bunkering is very, very challenging,” he said.
According to the non-governmental organisation Society for Gas as a Marine Fuel (SGMF), the most hazardous form of LNG transfer is through non-permanent connections such as ship-to-ship bunkering.
David Haynes, SGMF principal technical advisor, told IHS Maritime that the four key elements any ship operator handling an LNG-fuelled ship should guarantee are: risk assessment, staff competence, communication, and equipment.
New structural, operational, and crew training provisions for alternative fuel ships will come into force on 1 January 2017 under The International Code of Safety for Ships using Gases or Other Low Flashpoint Fuels (IGF Code).
Applying to new and existing ships of at least 500 gt, the regulation aims to ensure consistent worldwide safety of ships using LNG and alternative fuels.