An interview with a Bunker Trader

A Bunker Trader speaks to Imperium Commodity Search

Tell us about your experience:

Job Title: Bunker Country Sales Manager

How long have you been in commodities?

Since January 1983

How did you get into the commodity markets?

I started out at sea with P&O training as a navigating officer, at the end of my training I came ashore and was offered a job as bunker purchaser with Anderson Hughes (a P&O Company) buying for P&O ships and a consortium of other owners.

What is the core purpose of your current role?

I act as a bunker trader for Alpha Trading, looking for business in ports where Alpha supply bunkers as a physical supplier (in Trieste, Koper and Monfalcone) expanding business with new and existing clients in other ports in Europe, Africa and all ports East of Suez. Assisting Alpha Trading expanding into Marine Biofuels supply from our physical stocks in Italy

What is the biggest changes you have seen in the market throughout your career?
In the last forty years, there have been so many changes, when we started we had prices from 7 major oil companies, which were valid for 6 months at a time, quality was not an issue as most product was straight run from the oil refineries. Now we are looking at a highly volatile market with prices valid for 10 minutes and owners asking for quality certificates to check each and every supply. Over the years we have seen the Majors as the biggest suppliers worldwide, now we see the four major companies supplying in just a few ports where they have their own supply, independent suppliers then took over most of the supply and now we are seeing the ascendency of the big international Commodity traders coming into the bunker market. In the last year or two we have seen the start of a phenomenal change to shipping and bunkers with the start of Alternative Fuels (Biofuels, LNG, Methanol, leading onto Ammonia and Hydrogen), the industry is constantly changing.

What is the most enjoyable part of your Bunker trading role?
Every day is different, you can see the changes noted above, which keeps business exciting, each and every enquiry is slightly different, the ability to travel worldwide to meet suppliers and customer and having hundreds of friends worldwide whom you talk to on a daily basis.

What are the biggest pressures you’ve faced in the Marine Fuels sector?
The biggest pressure are from the quality aspects of the oil which we supply, when I started we just ordered 180cst or 380cst, now we look at all the parameters of the international specifications and parameters outside these too. It has been, for me, very enjoyable to look, learn and understand all the technical aspects of oil quality and assist owners in handling these issues.

What has been the funniest/strangest moment trading bunkers?
In the early days of bunker trading deals were done on the telephone and confirmed by telex, but you got to know the sound of your clients and suppliers voices, whist in Singapore one of my Malaysian suppliers came up behind me and put his hands over my eyes, saying you don’t know who this is do you, I immediately replied yes, its HBY from Ban Hoe Leong, had he walked up in front of me I wouldn’t have known who he was, but just the sound of his voice meant I met an ‘old friend’ whom I had been talking to for years. With business handled over WhatsApp and Skype these days that is much less likely to happen.

What piece of advice would you give to trainees, graduates or juniors looking to go into the commodity markets?
Try and work for a company which allows you full exposure on a worldwide basis, many companies pigeon hole traders to only work one area or one type of client, to allow you maximise your long term potential, try and work all clients and suppliers on a worldwide basis, you can then specialise later in your career if you would like to.

How would you sum up your time in commodities in 3 words?
Exciting, Interesting, Changeable