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Tatiana B and Florence B, two bunkering tankers
The bunker barge Double Skin 30 refuels the Margarete Schulte container ship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
A livestock carrier receiving bunkers from a bunker vessel in Fremantle Harbour, Australia
A livestock carrier receiving fuel from a bunker vessel in Fremantle Harbour, Australia
Dutch cruise ship Prinsendam receiving fuel from bunkering tanker Mozart in the port of Zeebrugge, Belgium
Bunkering tanker on the Nile near Luxor, Egypt

Bunkering is the supplying of fuel for use by ships (such fuel is referred to as bunker),[1] including the logistics of loading and distributing the fuel among available shipboard tanks.[2] A person dealing in trade of bunker (fuel) is called a bunker trader.

The term bunkering originated in the days of steamships, when coal was stored in bunkers.[1] Nowadays, the term bunker is generally applied to the petroleum products stored in tanks, and bunkering to the practice and business of refueling ships. Bunkering operations take place at seaports and include the storage and provision of the bunker (ship fuels) to vessels.[3]

Singapore is currently the largest bunkering port in the world.[4]

Bunkering in maritime law[edit]

In many maritime contracts, such as charterparties, contracts for carriage of goods by sea,[5] and marine insurance policies,[6] the ship-owner or ship operator is required to ensure that the ship is seaworthy. Seaworthiness requires not only that the ship be sound and properly crewed, but also that it be fully fuelled (or "bunkered") at the start of the voyage.[7] If the ship operator wishes to bunker en route, this must be provided for in a written agreement, or the interruption of the voyage may be deemed to be deviation (a serious breach of contract). If the vessel runs out of fuel in mid-ocean, this also constitutes serious breach, allowing the insurer to cancel a policy[8][9] and allowing a consignee to make a cargo claim. It may also lead to a salvage operation.

The International Maritime Organisation is an agency of the United Nations responsible for the prevention of marine pollution by ships. On 1 January 2020, the agency began enforcing the IMO 2020 regulation of MARPOL Annex VI to minimise bunkering's environmental impact.[10]

"Bunkering" as theft[edit]

In countries such as Nigeria, "bunkering" also refers to the clandestine siphoning off or diverting of oil from pipelines and storage facilities. Such bunkering is often crudely carried out, causing both accidents and pollution.[11][citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Manaadiar, Hariesh. "What is Bunker and Bunkering". Shipping and Freight Resource. Puthan House. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
  2. ^ MOHIT (19 October 2010). "Bunkering is Dangerous : Procedure for Bunkering Operation on a Ship". Marine Insight. Retrieved 16 January 2015Site seems to require enabling of cookies.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  3. ^ "Bunkering". Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). Archived from the original on 7 January 2015. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  4. ^ "Page 143 - WOO 2014". www.opec.org. Retrieved 2020-11-24.
  5. ^ See the United States' Harter Act
  6. ^ Marine Insurance Act 1906
  7. ^ The Hague–Visby Rules Articles II & III
  8. ^ Greenock Steamship Co v Marine Insurance [1903] 2 K.B. 657
  9. ^ If the policy has a "held-covered" clause, the deviation will not allow immediate cancellation
  10. ^ "Air Pollution". www.imo.org. Retrieved October 14, 2020.
  11. ^ Opinions | 05/04/18, David Nichol | (2018-04-05). "Bunker Spills: A brief overview of cause, effect and prevention". SAFETY4SEA. Retrieved 2020-10-24.