Why Use a Bunker Broker?

23 December 2009 By Bransom Bean

If the only port you ever bunker in is Antibes or Fort Lauderdale, as a captain or an engineer, you probably know who sells dirty fuel.

But there are times when do-it-yourself is not the best idea. Buying bunkers is perhaps one of them, especially if you happen to be in an unfamiliar port or up against a tight schedule.

Of the several good reasons to have someone else help you with fuel, the most obvious reason is to help you know what you’re putting in your tanks. (By the way, using a bunker broker or trader is no excuse not to sample, just as it’s no reason to bypass the filters.)

“Operating in different ports means you can be faced with dozens of players all purporting to be selling fuel and each with their own terms and conditions,” observes Evgeni T. Nordberg of Scandinavian Bunkering AS. “Using a bunker trader means having local knowledge, one set of terms and conditions and one point of contact.”

In other words, the trader acts as Diesel tour guide, making bunkering arrangements anywhere in the world, paying for it because you’ve established credit with them and they are taking responsibility because you’re actually buying the fuel from them, not the local supplier.

And although they take a fee, fuel-traders can often get more competitive terms and priority due to buying power based on volume – priority of course means getting underway on time and consequently lower blood pressure.

A fuel-trader adds value by relieving the captain of searching, negotiating, arranging payment terms, establishing credit and then chasing people in strange languages in an attempt to get an on-time delivery of fuel that’s not full of water and dirt and with a sulphur content that makes people start reading the fine print of the engine warranty.

Most people who can spell diesel know that bad fuel is bad news for diesel engines. And don’t think your filters will catch it all. Of the 25 or so things that can be wrong with fuel, filters may not catch more than five. Diesel fuel can be “bad” because it’s full of water, bacteria and/or particulate (dirt). Ironically it can seem quite clean and still be “bad” because it’s out of spec on things like “flash-point” or those pesky oxides of sulphur and nitrogen – SOx and NOx.

According to Nordberg, this is where understanding your relationship with the guy who is selling you the fuel becomes important, i.e. is this a bunker “broker” or a bunker “trader”? Not surprisingly, it’s all in the small print.

“Brokers only provide connections; a bunker trader buys on his own account and sells you fuel that he actually owns. The trader therefore takes full responsibility for the fuel so you have the legal right to protest in case of problems related delays or quality,” says Nordberg, “To find out if you have a trader or broker relationship, just ask yourself, ‘From whom am I buying this fuel?’; key words are ‘As sellers we confirm...’.”

Nordberg also advises to be very wary when the bunker confirmation says “local specifications.”

Bottom-line, at the risk of sounding like a litigious Yank, play your bunkering cards right and you could have someone with deep pockets to sue when it all goes wrong 2,000 miles and tens of thousands of dollars later instead of asking, “Now, what was the name of that guy back there in East Podunk Nowhere who sold us this fuel?”

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