Ship to Ship Operations (STS) explained - Product update

Posted by
The Signal Group
June 7, 2021

Ship-to-ship operations are very common, especially in the larger tanker vessel classes like VLCCs and ULCCs that can carry massive quantities of oil, sometimes up to 4 million barrels. The Signal Ocean Platform helps commercial shipping professionals track ships and the commercial operations they are engaged in, so it can provide a wealth of information on Ship-to-ship operations; but let’s start with the basics.

What is a Ship-to-Ship operation, why is it more common in tankers and what are the benefits and possible risks?

In most cases, load and discharge operations take place between a ship and a port terminal. There can be cases however, when it can be useful to transfer cargo from one ship to another in the open sea; this is what a ship-to-ship operation is. In this type of operation, one vessel acts as the terminal whilst the other one will moor to it. The ship receiving the cargo is called the daughter vessel and the delivering vessel is called the mother vessel. Cargoes typically transferred this way include crude oil, liquefied gas (LPG or LNG), bulk cargo, and petroleum products.

STS operations can be especially useful when dealing with very large vessels, such as VLCCs and ULCCs, which could face draught restrictions at some ports. They can also be economical compared to berthing at a jetty since both the berthing and mooring times are reduced, thus affecting the cost. Additional benefits include avoiding  port congestion, since the vessel will not enter the port. 

STS operations, however, need very effective operations and risk management to ensure that all risks of accident or an oil spill are eliminated.

Oil tankers performing hip to ship Operation (STS) on open sea

How STS operations report work in the Signal Ocean Platform

The STS Operations report displays all Ship-to-Ship Operations carried out at specific areas or ports, within a selected time frame, going back 12 months. Users can select a combination of areas and/or ports to focus on.

Ship to Ship STS report at the Signal Ocean Platform
Ship to Ship (STS) Operations Report in Signal Ocean Platform

The report focuses on 3 types of STS operations, including Lightering (when a bigger vessel operates with a smaller one), a Cargo Transfer (when vessels of the same size operate) and FPSO/Storage (when the operation involves a Storage or FPSO vessel). The data are displayed in a table format with filtering and sorting options per column. The table includes information ranging from Vessel names,Operation types and IMO, to Commercial operators.

Visualization of STS operation inside voyage history in Signal Ocean Platform
Visualization of STS operation inside voyage history in Signal Ocean Platform

Why is monitoring STS operations useful for players involved in commercial shipping and commodities trading?

Understanding STS load and/or/ discharge operations can be very useful when trying to track vessels and understand cargo flows. There are well-known areas (like the US Gulf and Singapore) that constitute key hubs for STS operations, mainly due to port restrictions preventing larger vessels from entering.

How are STS operations identified, using data and technology?

Signal has developed state-of-the-art Machine Learning algorithms that fuse different data sources like AIS data, commercial market data, and a proprietary geofencing, to accurately identify when two vessels are in the process of conducting STS operations. The algorithms exhibit generic and robust performance and are capable to efficiently recognise STS operations across the globe. Complex scenarios can also be recognised like STS operations involving multiple active or storage vessels. 

By carefully tracking each vessel across a specific sector the objective is to identify vessels that are in proximity at the same period of time. Having such information the next step involves understanding the operation type of each vessel that participates in the STS operation as well as other detailed characteristics that can enable us to model different aspects of the operation like flows of cargo. The final event is estimated by understanding the final time period of the operation. All events are then fused in the Signal system with a plethora of different data sources and state-of-the-art models to produce the actual itinerary of a vessel. 

The data is also available via API or export on our premium plans, allowing users to feed their systems and  models (e.g. for commodity trading) while looking for signals that drives their trading or other processes. 

To learn more about Signal Ocean, and get access to additional Analytical and Market Reports, as well as access to APIs and the data behind The Signal Ocean Platform,  request a demo

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