Sailing

Fuel for the engine and other machinery in ships is still referred to as ‘bunkers’ – an expression dating back to the earliest days of steam ships when coal for the engine was stowed in compartments called bunkers.  From that came bunker-coal which was shortened to bunkers and the name continued to be used when ships changed from burning coal to burning oil under their boilers and so on to this day. Although the oil is now consumed in an internal combustion engine, the name bunkers is still convenient and unambiguous jargon. Old expressions in shipping die hard for example, when one thinks how rare steam ships now are but one still refers to a ship’s progress at sea as ‘steaming’ and the act of leaving port as ‘sailing’. It is important to bear in mind that bunkering a ship is not like a car driving into a garage (gas station), pouring fuel into the tank and driving off again.  Bunkering will always cause delay to the vessel and involve additional port expenses, unless it is done concurrently with loading or discharging.  The ship has to deviate from her course to approach the bunkering port (which will probably make a charge for entering) and a pilot may have to be taken.  If it is an anchorage, the bunker barge has to be awaited; if it is at a jetty, the ship has to be securely moored before hoses can be connected.  Further time has to be expended checking the quantity before and after bunkering by ‘sounding’ the tanks. Even at an efficient bunkering port where the fuel itself can be pumped in at a rate of 250/300 tonnes per hour, a bunkering call seldom takes less than 12 hours and as we saw in the lesson on costing, there is no case of ‘time is money’ more evident than operating a ship. Great care should, therefore, be paid to the question of bunkering as it is possible to make quite a difference to the voyage with prudent bunker buying.  The price of bunkers varies significantly throughout the world and a balance has to be made between the quantity of bunkers and the quantity of cargo lifted.