Born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia, Eugenia Benavides has built her career close to home, having advanced through the ranks of the Colombian oil company Organization Terpel after joining as an intern in 1984.
Since 2004, when Terpel del Norte merged with Organizacion Terpel and reorganised, Eugenia has been working solely in the marine business and she is currently the Sales Director of Marine Fuels for Colombia. In 2011, she was elected to serve as an IBIA board member and was re-elected to serve an additional three year period in 2014.
UE: You have been working in the bunker industry for over a decade now. What are the best/worst things about it?
EB: The best thing about the bunker industry is that it is a dynamic market. Every day is completely different from the day before. Each day has new a new challenge.
Working in the bunker market you meet people from different cultures and from all parts of the world. Conventions, forums, summits and events worldwide, have been very enriching. I have experienced different cultures and built relationships. As a result I have great friends in every continent. This makes business dealings easier; when you meet the people you deal with and you share experiences with them.
Maybe the worst thing is that because we serve ships, which do not stop and work 24/7, 365 days a year, we operate in a market with unpredictable conditions, and you have to be constantly connected. Keep in mind that we all live in different time zones, so for us many orders are generated 8 or 13 hours ahead of our office hours. So when you wake up in this part of the world your mail box is already full with lots of e-mails before you get to the office.
UE: Has it changed much during your time?
EB: Yes …it has changed a lot. Many companies have closed and some have failed. Many colleagues had changed positions within the industry. So maybe one year they are in one company and the next you will find them at other company. Still, I think the bunker business is a small club. Once a member, always a member.
We see today there are a lot of platforms for the industry. We also have many new communication tools available; both have helped a lot to develop new business opportunities.
Regulations to reduce sulphur oxide emissions introduced limits for sulphur content of the fuels used by ships since MARPOL Annex VI entered into force in 2005. Under the new global cap, starting January 2020, ships will have to use fuels with a sulphur content of no more than 0.50% against the current 3.50% limit that has been in effect since 2012. This means that everyone has to be prepared for the new regulation and the specifications of the products available to meet demand has been changing. Now we can find LNG and cold ironing in some ports while many years ago this was a just a dream.
UE: Why did you stand for election to become an IBIA board member the first time, and what made you stand for re-election after your initial 3-year tenure?
EB: I stood for election for the first time at the request of my friend Alejandro Risler (from Risler Argentina), who was with IBIA since the start, I met him in 1993, at the first IBIA event in Orlando, Florida (USA). Once his term was up, he had to step down. However, Alejandro wanted to have someone from Latin America replacing him at the board and representing the Latin American bunker business. So he called me to stand for board election. The first time I stood for election was in 2010 and I was not recommended by the BDC, but I stood again in 2011, when I was recommended and elected.
I stood for re-election as I had a great experience during my first period as an IBIA Board Member. I think there are a lot of things to be achieved in my part of the world. I think participating in events worldwide and sharing experiences with my board mates from different sectors and cultures has helped me understand the industry better. I feel more passionate about my job. I think there still are a lot of things to be done and the Association has to increase its membership by establishing branches in areas that are not yet covered by the Association; such as the Americas.
I enjoyed working all those years in an association that works with all players in the industry. We attempted to bring in best practices for the businesses, a code of ethics, organised worldwide events, and presented at conferences in every continent.
Also being a board member opens doors everywhere and allows you to have updated and fresh information of what is going on IMO. You also get a feel for what the maritime world tendencies are. Being on the board for me also has been an education. I feel that I earned a master’s degree in bunkers. I have learned a lot from my board-mates, from the surveyors, suppliers, traders, ship-owners, consultants, brokers and port operator‘s point of view.
UE: As an active member of IBIA, what are the key benefits you see from being part of the Association?
EB: The benefits I perceive as a member of this worldwide Association, is that IBIA is the voice of the industry representing all the global players. It is an association that tries to have presence in every continent and in every sector that has to deal with the maritime business. The IBIA Annual dinner during IP week every February in London, is a must if you are a member of the bunker market.
The Association has a monthly newsletter and you are updated on every theme in the business.
It also sends you a welcome package regarding glossary terms, member’s directory and a guide for best practices in the business.
It continues to organize events in different parts of the world and/or countries, capturing issues relevant to the players of that area and updating everyone on the movements of the industry.
Being a member of the Association allows you to get discounts on event rates that the Association is cosponsoring or associated with.
I believe in action and IBIA is that.
UE: The bunker and shipping industries are male-dominated,
and there have not been many women on the IBIA board. How do you think we can encourage more women to get involved?
EB: When I first attended a bunker industry event in 1993 at the Orlando Walt Disney Dolphin resort (when IBIA was established), I was shocked as we were not so many women participating.
Today, more women executives are involved in the business as well as many young people and millennials are entering the business.
I think today women are getting ahead in many sectors that were once male dominated. I invite all of my female friends to participate, and stand for the next board elections coming up in October. I am sincere when I tell you that being a board member has been one of the best professional experiences of my life.
UE: We are on the cusp of a major shift in the bunker market due to the 0.50% sulphur limit taking effect in 2020. This raises many questions. First of all, how is your company preparing? What type of fuels will you be offering to ships and will you be able to replace your current HSFO supply volumes with low sulphur fuels?
EB: Regarding this sulphur limit we are dealing with refineries to see what products we are going to have to offer. So far compliant low sulphur marine diesel sulphur is available, but the raw materials to produce compliant IFOs are not. So they are working to see what kind of products they will be able to offer. The state oil local refinery will update the market on the action plans regarding this at the end of the third trimester of this year.
UE: How do think the new low-sulphur era will impact on the bunker industry in Latin America in general, and in Colombia in particular? Will there be sufficient availability?
EB: These are the themes we are working on with the state oil refinery in Colombia. Regarding Panama, all bunker fuels are imported so they will have availability of the products. It is clear that we need to get compliant products otherwise the bunker demand will shrink and our ports will not be able to keep up the current bunker supply volumes.
UE: Ship operators’ greatest concerns about 2020 is not just the availability and price of compliant fuels, but also the safety of compliant fuels with regards to quality and compatibility between fuels bought from different ports and suppliers. What can the supply side do to reassure those who buy and consume bunkers about fuel quality?
EB: Suppliers should always test the final blend and ensure that the product is within all the required specifications. They should adopt the IBIA Guidance On Best Practice For Fuel Oi Oil Suppliers, published at the beginning of this year in particular chapter 4.2 on quality control during the production and supply of bunkers.
UE: How do you think the world will cope with the 0.50% sulphur limit in 2020?
EB: That is a very difficult question. Looking toward 2020 has too many limitations and it makes it hard to make predictions of the availabilities of fuels and its price. For sure everyone is working on this aspect. At every event/conference this is the main theme of discussion. Shipowners have to decide if they will invest in scrubbers, switch to distillates or compliant low sulphur fuel oil blends, or use LNG. Physical suppliers will have to work on having products to offer to satisfy the market needs.
UE: What are your main concerns about the 2020 sulphur limit?
EB: I think the changes will result in a cost increase for ship owners as they change from high sulphur heavy fuels to more expensive lower sulphur alternatives fuels, LNG or scrubbing systems.
Because of fuel costs, the maritime freights will increase and that will make goods more expensive.
On the other side ship-owners will need more cash flow to pay for low-sulphur products and suppliers will need to adjust their credit lines as this will mean more money will be involved in each transaction.
UE: After dealing with sulphur emissions, the pressure is growing to reduce GHG from shipping. What can the industry do to make it happen, and how do you think it will impact the bunker supply business?
EB: The greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced if the shipping companies reduce their fuel consumption, for example by operating at slow speed and optimising their routes.
The use of renewable energy such as wind power for propulsion and cold ironing can also help as well as the use of lower carbon fuels for propulsion.
Shipping companies will have to choose which way or product they will use and the suppliers will have to offer what the demand will ask for, as long it complies will all the regulations.
So the market will keep moving.