HomeTanker ShipsWhat is an oil tanker ship?

What is an oil tanker ship?

Oil tankers or petroleum tankers are ships designed for transporting oil from their extraction site to the refineries or to the distribution centers.

There are different types of ships available in the world merchant shipping fleet. Out of them, oil tankers have a significant role as they carry different types of oils including the fuel oil for bunkering. As of the beginning of 2020, there were nearly 16,000 oil tankers that sailed across oceans. Oil tankers are commonly called tankers. And tankships, tank ships, or petroleum tankers are also used instead of oil tankers.

The most popular oil tankers are crude oil tankers as they assist to transport large quantities of crude oil or unrefined oil from the oil wells to refineries.

Tankers carry cargo in bulk and Gas form, chemical tankers and crude oil tankers are the main types of oil tankers available in the merchant shipping fleet. The ships have the ability to carry cargo in liquid form or as gas. Some tankers are used to carry edible liquids in bulk as vegetable oil, wine, and molasses.

Types of Tankers

Tankers could classify based on their capacity other than the type of products they carry.  Capacity could be defined as the deadweight tons (DWT) of the ship. DWT is the maximum tonnage or the volume which can be carried during a single voyage.

The sizes could be categorized as Medium Range (MR), Panamax (the largest tankers that can fit through the Panama Canal), Aframax, and Suezmax (the largest tankers that can fit through the Suez Canal),  Very large crude carriers (VLCC), and Ultra-large crude carriers (ULCC) 

VLCC has a capacity of over 200,000 DWT and can carry two million barrels of oil. Ultra-large crude carriers can carry in excess of 320,000 DWT, roughly three million barrels of oil. 

What is the First Oil Tanker?

The Gluckauf is the world’s first oil tanker which was built in 1886 with separate onboard tanks. Gluckauf was built in Newcastle and it has eight tanks with a bulkhead.

How Many Tankers are There?

As per the Statistics, the world fleet had 810 very large crude carriers (VLCCs), 668 Aframax, 571 Suezmax, in early 2020.

 Which Fuel do Tankers Use?

Before 1st January 2020, the majority of the ocean going vessels used high sulphur fuel oil(HSFO) as bunkering. Thus, some companies were focusing on future fuel or renewable energy to run the ships. To decarbonise the shipping industry, IMO (International Maritime Organisation) has introduced IMO sulphur cap regulation, which requires vessels to run ships with low sulphur fuel oil (LSFO) instead of HSFO. LSFO runs with the sulphur limit of 0.5% which is 3.5% in HSFO.

There are ocean going vessels that run using LNG (Liquid Natural Gas), hybrid power, and solar power. 

The shipping industry expects the future bunkering fuel as LNG and there are experiments going on to use Hydrogen, methanol for bunkering.

What is the Speed of a Tanker?

The average speed of a tanker has increased from 12 knots to 16 knots over time. There are ships with a speed exceeding 16 Knots and they are special-purpose vessels. Same as other vessels, oil tankers also follow the concept of slow steaming to achieve economies of scale over bunker fuel usage.

How long does it take to Load a Tanker?

A loading platform for a supertanker might have three flexible pipes to fill the ship. The capacity of the pipes depends on the capacity of the vessel. The loading and discharging volumes per hour or the pumping rate of the vessel are determined based on the pipe diameter. 

Average Fuel consumption of tanker 

Clarksons estimates that average spot rates for Suezmaxes (tankers that carry 1 million barrels) are $4,000 per day. But, this purely depends on the running condition of the oil tanker including its speed.



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