What are Liquid Bulk Terminals?

A liquid bulk terminal is an area within a seaport with the required infrastructure to store large quantities of liquids or liquefied gases and their subsequent transportation. Such liquids include crude oil, crude oil derivatives, chemicals, liquified natural gas (LNG), liquified petroleum gas (LPG), etc.

While grain terminals mostly handle large volumes of food grains or powders, liquid commodities in bulk are received and stored at liquid bulk terminals before they are shipped to customers by sea, road, rail, or pipeline. 

Careful planning and coordination are crucial for moving such large volumes of liquid cargo. They might have to be shifted from one mode of transport to another, from transport to storage, or vice-versa.

Liquid Bulk Terminals

During this movement, various stringent safety and regulatory requirements must be followed to avoid economic loss, accidents, and spillages. Failure to comply with safety and regulatory requirements often results in human fatalities and catastrophic damage to the environment.

Liquid bulk cargoes play a very important role in a wide range of industries, from energy to chemicals to beverages. Each industry deals with different types of bulk liquids and, as such, has different handling, storage, and transportation requirements.

Oil tankers or special oil barges transport large cargoes of liquids by sea, while tanker trucks and rail tankers transport them over land. Some liquid bulk terminals are connected directly with their customers’ plants by large pipelines. 

Types of Liquid Bulk Cargo

Liquid bulk cargo is normally classified as follows:

  • Edible
  • Non-edible
  • Hazardous 
  • Non-hazardous

Vegetable oils and fruit juices are examples of edible liquid cargo. Most edible cargo is non-hazardous. Fuels, lubricants, chemicals, and acids are examples of non-edible and hazardous liquids. Mineral oil is an example of non-edible and non-hazardous cargo.

What are Liquefied Gases? 

While natural gases can be compressed under high pressure and stored in tanks, they are susceptible to explosions, especially during handling and transport. 

Technological developments have enabled the liquefaction of such gases at extremely low temperatures and the safe transportation of liquefied gas, commonly known as Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) or Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).

Types of Ships for Transporting Liquid Bulk Cargo

Depending on the quantity and type of cargo, liquids may be transported in Flexitanks, ISO tanks, or drums and barrels. Unlike container ships that carry standardised multimodal containers or the tanks mentioned here, large ocean-going tankers take their cargo of oil or liquefied gas directly into specially constructed holds or tanks on the ship. 

The comparison may be drawn here to dry bulk shipping, where cargo like coal, metals, fertilisers, food grains, etc., is carried in the ship’s special holds rather than in individual containers. Liquid bulk tankers are designed and built considering the extra-hazardous nature of the cargo that they carry.

LPG carriers transport cargo in specially constructed spherical or cylindrical tanks that can withstand high pressure. LNG carriers have specially insulated cylindrical tanks to carry their liquefied cargo at very low temperatures.

liquid terminal

 

Oil and gas tankers range from small ships plying coastal waters to ultra-large vessels equipped to carry several thousands of Deadweight Tons (DWT) of liquid or gaseous cargo.

Generally, coastal tankers carry cargo less than 50,000 DWT, while the Aframax and Suezmax class of vessels have capacities ranging between 80,000 and 180,000 DWT. 

VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) carry cargo in the range of 320,000 DWT. This translates to about 2 million barrels of oil. ULCCs (Ultra Large Crude Carriers) are designed to carry more than this. The capacity of the current largest ULCC is about 3 million barrels. 

Liquid bulk terminals are designed and equipped to cater to these different types of ships. Handling tankers of varying sizes and shapes requires special equipment and expertise at the terminal. 

Safety Features

The marine arms and hoses used in loading and unloading liquid cargo may vary for different types of vessels. Most loading and unloading arms have two lines for liquid, while some have a third line for transferring vapour. 

Coupler mechanisms used for the safe and quick connection between the arm and the tanker are usually remotely operated, and safety features are included to prevent unexpected disengagements, etc. 

ship terminal

Stored liquids, especially crude oils, can give off hydrocarbon vapours or other volatile organic compounds. When mixed with air, it can be highly explosive. Therefore, these vapours are collected and safely moved to the vapour recovery tanks in the terminal after removing the sulfur component.

Thus, besides the huge pipelines that crisscross liquid bulk terminals, there are different types of large tanks and pumping stations to handle these processes. The liquid cargos are generally stored in robust tanks with special safety features such as automatic vapour and pressure venting systems, as well as sensors to gauge the temperature, level, and other critical details.   

Operations of Liquid Bulk Terminals

The operation of modern liquid bulk terminals can be quite complex and challenging. The shorter handling time of tankers requires modern, innovative technologies and the right personnel to handle these technologies efficiently. 

The integration of technology, automation, and data tools helps with better decisions, thereby improving operational efficiency. The technical operations staff undergo regular training to meet the stringent safety requirements of loading and unloading and for the safe and efficient transport of liquid cargo using specialised procedures and equipment. 

Effective risk management strategies have to be in place to counter the challenges posed during liquid bulk terminal operations. Identifying and evaluating potential risks and having countermeasures in place is crucial here.

Safety Standards

The code of practice established by the International Safety Guide for Oil Tankers and Terminals (ISGOTT) is the widely accepted safety standard in the liquid bulk terminal industry.

It provides technical guidance on oil tanker and terminal operations. It is published and updated jointly by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF), and the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH).

liquid ship terminal port

Though more cargo means more money for liquid bulk terminal operators, they must consider environmental concerns and follow sustainable practices. Safety has to be at the top of the list of priorities.

Compliance with local and international regulations covering transportation, handling, and storage of liquid bulk cargo while keeping the stakeholder interest foremost plays an important role in ensuring the operational success of liquid bulk terminals. 

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About Author

Hari Menon is a Freelance writer with close to 20 years of professional experience in Logistics, Warehousing, Supply chain, and Contracts administration. An avid fitness freak, and bibliophile, he loves travelling too.

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The information contained in this website is for general information purposes only. While we endeavour to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the website or the information, products, services, or related graphics contained on the website for any purpose. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.


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