Each year, Repsol charters dozens of vessels to transport over 1,500 shipments of crude and products around the world. The Vetting department analyzes and evaluates each ship to check that it meets the required safety conditions to be chartered. Any ship that carries cargo for the company, whether chartered or berthed at one of its docks, must first be approved by its inspectors.
The Repsol technical department that is responsible for safety and pollution prevention—an activity known in the industry as vetting—"has certain requirements that are in some ways more demanding than local, national, or international standards," explained Idoia Ibáñez, the energy company's Vetting Manager.
Among these requirements is for all vessels transporting crude or heavy products to have a double hull, "regardless of their size and the country they are sailing to."
A team of inspectors trained by Merchant Navy captains and chief engineers perform a ship-by-ship evaluation of a variety of technical and management aspects to find out "if it is suitable for chartering."
Factors such as its safety record, the experience and training of its crew, the age of the ship, and its maintenance and safety management system determine whether the Vetting department gives it the stamp of approval.
Safety, an absolute priority
Safety "is an absolute priority for Repsol," and therefore the company has set up "certain procedures for identifying the risks involved in different maritime transport operations, along with preventive safety criteria."
The aim is to ensure that "we do everything in our power to load and ship hydrocarbons or any other cargo safely," said Ibáñez.
Almost all the big oil companies do not have their own fleet, and chartering vessels, after applying exhaustive contract controls, is standard practice. Repsol created the Vetting department in 1993, and since then its technicians have subjected ships to a safety assessment prior to approval.
The inspection not only affects big oil, gas, and chemical tankers, but all boats of any type or size, from tugs and supply ships to river boats.
Exhaustive, regular audits
The process used to analyze the management and condition of the vessels can involve a Repsol inspector boarding the ship and reviewing it thoroughly, along with all its documentation. This examination normally lasts around eight to ten hours.
Repsol Vetting only accepts vessels with Protection and indemnity insurance (P&I) to cover its third-party liabilities in a variety of cases, such as sinking. The policy must be chartered from a company that is a member of the International Group of Protection & Indemnity Clubs, which groups together major insurers around the world. They provide joint liability cover against possible claims, "thereby guaranteeing the solvency of this coverage.”
The validity of the approval also varies according to the age of the vessel: if it is less than ten years old, it is valid for 18 months, but if it is more than 15 years old, it must be re-evaluated after 6 months.
Any incident—such as the impounding of the ship by any port authority or changes in its management involving modifications to the technical operator, the crew, or the flag under which it sails—can cause the approval to be revoked with immediate effect.
Cooperation between oil companies
The assessment service consists of a Vetting coordination team at the central offices in Madrid, along with a team of inspectors at the maritime terminals of the company's Bilbao, Cartagena, A Coruña, and Tarragona refineries. A network of approved external inspectors examines ships in the rest of the world.
All the inspectors are Merchant Navy captains or chief engineers with a long record of sailing and command, and are certified by the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF), an association of companies in this industry that share common inspection procedures, the so-called SIRE and OVID reports. A database allows auditors to view the inspections performed on a ship by their colleagues at another company.
Repsol transports 1.2 million barrels of crude and products by sea every day. This is a very dynamic market and being able to negotiate fleets swiftly "can have a significant financial impact." Nevertheless, the Vetting department always has the last word as "it has universal safety criteria for all the ships that it charters, regardless of the area in which they operate," concluded Ibáñez.