Ship-to-ship transfers of crude, clean and dirty oil products have been taking place for over 50 years, and over 11,500 transfers take place each year from around 250 lightering locations in 85 countries around the world.  

Whether transfers take place offshore (34%) or in port (66%), the traditional risks associated with such operations are well known and recognised across the lightering sector, but climate change and global warming are now creating new risk factors including higher sea states, stronger winds and more frequent extreme weather events. 

As a result, a new world is emerging for STS, a world where marine expertise, coupled with advanced engineering, technology and systems and processes, are needed to reduce risk and enhance human and environmental safety.  

Leading the way into this new world are SafeSTS Limited and SafeSTS Transfer Technology Limited, both members of the Future Marine Services group of companies. 

From its headquarters in Diss, Norfolk SafeSTS now manages lightering operations from 16 locations around the world, and all such operations are undertaken in line with Marpol Chapter 8 and the latest ICS/OCIMF ship-to-ship transfer guidelines. 

The marine experience gained from the many years spent undertaking these transfer operations for the oil and gas ‘majors’ is enabling the SafeSTS marine team, working in collaboration with key maritime partners through its Transfer Technology business, to develop advanced hardware and software solutions which facilitate the secure and efficient transfer of oil and derivatives between vessels.  

Unexpected mooring breakouts have always been recognised as the biggest risk during offshore STS operations, and the launch of the SafeSTS Protective Transfer System (PTX), developed in close co-operation with Gall Thomson, marks a step-change in the STS transfer market. Using Gall Thomson’s proven flip-flap marine breakaway coupling technology, the PTX provides rapid, safe, on-demand release within the marine hose transfer system, thereby safeguarding offshore oil tanker transfer operations against emergency scenarios in a way which has previously not been possible.  

Traditional side-by-side ship-to-ship transfer operations in the world’s most challenging offshore environments are set to be superseded by the SafeSTS  Transfer via Buoy Terminal (TVB), a revolutionary new ship-to-ship cargo transfer system developed for the Dynamic Positioning (DP) shuttle tankers sector. It is designed to enable export tankers to load or discharge at a single point mooring (SPM) terminal, with the shuttle tankers working in DP mode whilst keeping at a predetermined distance of circa 150 metres from the export tanker.     

“We are rapidly moving into a new world of STS and our system solutions have to reflect today’s realities,” said SafeSTS Chief Executive Yvonne Gilchrist-Mason OBE. 

“The statistics tell us that over 60% of all global lightering operations are taking place in a port environment, where transfers are normally governed by port regulations rather than international STS compliance, so our products and solutions must be applicable for such operations, and acceptable to port and harbour authorities, and their agents.” 

She added: “SafeSTS Transfer Technology Limited is already a UK distributor of Trelleborg’s pneumatic fenders, which are ideal for permanent or semi-permanent port operations, as well as for offshore STS operations, and later this year we plan to introduce a range of advanced mooring solutions for port and offshore use.”