Risk Alert : Bunkering and Fatigue

Vessel crews and operators are reminded of existing guidance regarding fatigue and its potential negative effect on bunker operations.  The UK P&I Club in a Risk Focus publication notes the following:

Highwork-load and simultaneous shipboard operations:

Bunkering often takes place concurrently with cargo operations, storing, maintenance, inspections, audits and surveys; imposing high (and often conflicting) demands on the crew.


Not unrelated to the above – bunkering operations may be performed over extended periods at unsociable hours – but there may be additional contributing factors.”


Does this sound like your most recent bunkering operation?  If it does, perhaps we should consider some of the observations provided by Washington State regarding bunkering:

“A number of fatigue-related effects have been identified:

  • Lapses in judgment or failures to respond.
  • Inappropriate responses.
  • Decreased performance consistency.
  • Slowed reactions.
  • Increased mental errors.
  • Decreased memory and recall.
  • Decreased attention.
  • Increased risk-taking behavior.

For bunkering operation work hours, WAC 317-40-085 states: “Vessel personnel involved in bunkering may not work more than 15 hours in any 24-hour period, nor more than 36 hours in any 72-hour period, except in an emergency or spill response operation. For purposes of this section, ‘emergency’ means an unforeseen situation that poses an imminent threat to human safety, or the environment, or substantial loss of property.”

Bunkering by fatigued crew can cause oil spills. In Washington State, fatigue has been a factor in a number of bunker spills. Though sleep is a basic human need, fatigue and the need for sleep are too often viewed as weaknesses that can be overcome. In reality, fatigue is not controllable, and it leads to a degradation of performance and poor decision making.”

If you believe you or your crew are dangerously fatigued, one resource that may help you make that determination comes from the Australia Maritime Safety Authority’s (AMSA) Fatigue Guidelines:

Remember, STCW rest/work hours are only one metric of whether or not someone is fatigued.  If your crew (and in particular, your crew involved with bunkering) are at significant or higher risk, perhaps it is time to consider other risk mitigation strategies.

Let’s be safe out there.

Additional Reading and Links

Bunkering Best Practices : Safe bunkering operations in Washington State

UK P&I – Risk Focus – Safe Bunker Operations – How to ensure safe bunkering practice to avoid spills

AMSA – Fatigue Guidelines

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