Magnets on MFMs: Case of ‘a few bad apples spoiling the basket’
The use of magnets by certain companies to allegedly influence mass flowmeter (MFM) readings is undermining the integrity of the vast majority of bunker operators who play by the rules and may cause unnecessary reputation damage to Singapore’s bunkering industry.
This was a common view shared by three industry veterans who have been heavily involved in the development of TR48.
Simon Neo, the Executive Director of Singapore-based bunker consultancy firm Piroj International, says there were isolated cases of magnets being used by crew onboard bunker tankers.
“We did hear of magnets being used by certain suppliers but this does not mean all players in Singapore use this,” highlights Neo, who is also the Regional Manager (Asia) at International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA).
He shares that cases have been reported to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) since last year.
“Additionally, it has not been scientifically proven using magnets will benefit the bunker supplier,” he states.
“The transition by the entire Singapore bunkering industry, from sounding-based measurements to using MFMs for the custody transfer of marine fuel, is meant to provide a regulated level playing field for players.
“However, there are still a few bad apples who think they can get away with cheating the system.”
Darrick Pang, Managing Director of Singapore-based marine fuel measurement solutions firm Metcore International Pte. Ltd., says attempts in using magnets further reinforces the need for bunker surveyors to be vigilant in detecting activities that compromise the integrity of bunkering operations.
The Singapore Technical Reference for Bunker Mass Flow Metering (TR 48:2015), under Clause 10.5 ‘Bunkering Operation’, already states the responsibility of surveyors to check for MFM system integrity breaches during operations.
“It is the role of bunker surveyors to be competent in understanding and applying the requirements of TR48 to detect breaches. Having a surveyor’s watchful eye to detect illegal activities would also send a strong signal to veer away from non-compliance,” he said.
On the use of magnets, Pang reminds stakeholders that historical bunkering data is kept on MFM systems over a period of three-months for traceability and accountability under TR 48.
“Magnets will have to be used on MFMs over an extended period of time for meaningful gains, if any,” he said, sharing his take there is no conclusive evidence of fuel loss with the use of magnets.
“There will always be attempts to breach the MFM system; but there are ways and means to analyse the data for irregularities which will expose these illegal activities [if magnets were used during bunkering],” he says.
“Continuous monitoring and control with cooperation from all stakeholders is still as important as the measurement of the meter.”
Moving forward, Seah Khen Hee, who led the Singapore MFM project and is instrumental in developing the principles, requirements and procedures of TR 48, reiterates the technical reference being built on the twin foundations of measurement accuracy and system integrity as respectively stated in Clause 6 and Clause 7.
“Meeting the requirements of these two clauses are fundamental for approval and operation of the MFM system during bunkering activities,” he explains.
“Clause 7 is clear that there should be no tampering or interference of the MFM system before, during, or after measurement; this includes using foreign objects or devices, for example magnets, to alter the results of the measurement or the measuring characteristics of the MFM.
“Any such action [relating to tampering or interference] during bunkering operations not only violate the spirit or intention of the TR 48 standard but can also be considered as attempts at illegal activities where enforcement action either under the licensing regime or other laws may apply.”