Bunkering and how refueling ships is managed safely

Refueling of cargo vessels is known as bunkering – an activity that is performed daily at ports all around the world.

Typically, barges carrying fuel will be moved alongside a vessel with the assistance of tugboats. Once there, they follow a strict protocol to ensure refueling is done safely. This protocol is detailed in the port authority’s Port Information Guide.

Bunkering can be done while a ship is docked or while it is at anchor in a harbour.

The majority of ships requiring refueling at the Port of Vancouver are bunkered in the inner harbour of Burrard Inlet. Ocean transportation of liquid bulk cargoes including bunkering operations are not permitted at Roberts Bank.

Roberts Bank terminals attract particularly large ships that may not be able to easily sail into the inner harbour because of a complex set of circumstances – including tides, ship size, wind, bridge height, current traffic and more – that must first be assessed. In these cases, it may be more practical for certain ships to bunker in English Bay, though this is rare.

In addition to the long list of thorough procedures required for bunkering at the Port of Vancouver, vessels to be bunkered in English Bay are subject to further restrictions, including that bunkering operations may not proceed if winds are blowing or forecast to blow above 17 to 21 knots, and a requirement that a tug remain onsite and ready to render assistance. Since these rules came into place in January 2013, bunkering operations in English Bay have occurred once.

As the port authority, it is our responsibility to ensure any and all operating procedures take into account the highest level of safety, security and environmental protection. Our bunkering procedures follow world-wide standards and are under constant assessment and review.

Peter Xotta
Vice President, Operations
Vancouver Fraser Port Authority

Port information guide