Early in 2014, Svitzer accomplished the first emergency Ship-To-Ship (STS) LNG transfer operation between two Q-Flex carriers – an operation that demonstrated our ability to operate effectively under tough conditions in cooperation with regulatory authorities and other contractors.

In December last year, the Qatargas-owned LNG tanker Al Gharrafa was in a collision with a Hanjin Boxship off the coast of Singapore. With a smashed bow, the Al Gharrafa needed to offload its cargo – 211,000m3 of LNG – quickly and safely, without incurring any further disaster. This process was made possible by a contract signed three years ago between Qatargas and Svitzer. 

This isn’t the first time an STS LNG operation has been carried out – there are previous incidents in 1984 and in 2006 – although it is the first time it has been done between two Q-Flex carriers. Not only did this operation present new challenges, but the fact that it was in Singaporean waters also added a new level of complexity. The busiest port in the world, Singapore attracts more than 140,000 vessels annually and there are around 1,000 vessels in port at any given time.

With such heavy throughput, the Singapore Marine Port Authority (MPA) runs a tight regulatory ship, and Svitzer had to work closely with them to ensure smooth running of the operation. We also called on the expertise of other contractors to assist in areas such as mooring, cargo transfer and dockyard storage. These coordinated efforts led Singapore MPA to record the proceedings as a test case that would help them streamline future situations.

With the MPA and key contractors onside, Svitzer was able to fully mobilise transfer operations on 22 January. The agreement with Qatargas meant that there was a store of all necessary equipment in the Netherlands, which could be transported to the operation area within 60 hours. Svitzer personnel were placed immediately on site to begin a full risk assessment and fine tune the forthcoming plan of action. Our training staff also created a tailored induction course to ensure control of who could enter the 500m exclusion zone.

The equipment was quickly and carefully set up and the cargo transfer process began. The weather was monitored for potentially dangerous conditions and, even though this was the rainy season, it held for the six days required to execute the delicate operation. The process was completed without incident, after which the equipment was demobilised, recertified where necessary and shipped back to the Netherlands.

The successful operation was made possible through a combination of Svitzer’s own expertise and the support of local authorities and subcontractors. As an example of how our organisation is able to respond to demanding challenges, the transfer operation will serve as a useful case study from which we can assess and improve our processes. It has also provided a detailed pictorial record of a model STS operation that will provide valuable documentation of our capabilities to potential future customers.

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