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Despite a tumultuous year for the bunker industry – in more ways than one – marine fuel sales at the world’s biggest bunker port remained resilient during 2020.

The 49,833,100 metric tonnes (mt) of bunker fuel sales last year left the Port of Singapore just 166,900 mt shy of breaking the 50 million mt mark for the first time since 2017.

However, 2020’s total represented a 5% increase on the 47,463,500 mt of marine fuel sales recorded during 2019.

With the introduction of the 0.50% sulphur cap on 1 January, 2020 was always likely to be a milestone year for the marine fuels sector. With concerns over fuel availability, larger bunker hubs – such as Singapore - were seen as safe options and perhaps stood to benefit from increased demand at the expense of smaller ports.

The year got off to a strong start for bunker players in Singapore. In January, some 4,514,700 mt of fuel were sold – a 7.5% increase on the 4,199,400 mt registered in the same month in 2019. This was followed by a 2.6% year-on-year (y-o-y) increase in February.

But if the shipping sector had to contend with a regulation many years in the making, it was then blindsided by the sudden emergence of a coronavirus which, by mid-March, had been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Despite the ongoing challenges, bunker sales remained solid at Singapore during the first months of the year. The port registered y-o-y sales increases in March and April before recording a dip of 2% in May.

With IMO 2020-compliant very low sulphur fuel oils (VLSFO) very much in their infancy, there had been some question as to whether shipowners and operators might play it safe with the more familiar marine gasoil (MGO) – at least during the first quarter. This supposition was swiftly put to bed, however. By the end of H1, sales of low sulphur fuel oil (LSFO) 380 cSt (12,137,000 mt) accounted for nearly half of the 24,584,400 mt of all marine fuel sold at the port. This trend would continue for the rest of the year. In fact, sales of MGO, which peaked in January at 108,500 mt, would slowly tail off during 2020, bottoming out in September. Likewise, sales of low sulphur marine gasoil (LSMGO) would not better the 445,900 mt recorded in January.

As with conventional heavy fuel oil, the 380 cSt grade of low sulphur fuel oil was the most popular with owners and operators throughout the course of the year, but alternative grades also played a part in the mix. Sales of LSFO 100 cSt and LSFO 180 cSt averaged 636,825 mt per month and 94,333 mt per month respectively during 2020.

Worthy of note were sales of HFO (marine fuel oil 380 cSt), which, during H1 2020 averaged 655,083 mt per month, but in H2 2020 averaged 953,367 mt – an indication of increased scrubber-equipped tonnage perhaps.

By the end of November, bunker sales at the Singapore stood at 45,543,500 mt. And while the 4,289,600 mt of sales registered in December was not enough to see the port break the 50 million mt mark for only the second time in its history, 2020’s total reflects a resilience in a market that – like so many others across the world – will continue to face challenges in the months to come.

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