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SINGAPORE: Sales of marine fuels, known as bunkers, in Singapore climbed to a four-year high in 2021, official data showed, led by higher sales in the first half of the year amid firm global demand for sea-borne freight.

Bunker sales in Singapore were 0.3% higher from the previous year to 49.99 million tonnes in 2021, data from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) showed.

Including sales of liquefied natural gas, an emerging cleaner burning marine fuel, Singapore bunker sales were at 50.04 million tonnes.

The 2021 sales in Singapore, the world's top bunkering hub, were the second highest on record, down 1% from the 2017 record of 50.64 million tonnes.

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In the first half of 2021, sales of Singapore bunkers were 3% higher from the previous year, but fell to 2% below year-ago levels in the second half of 2021 amid cooling global trade, port congestion and bottlenecks, rising oil prices and stiff price competition from regional ports, particularly in China.

Singapore, also the world's busiest container transhipment port, saw a record high container throughput of 37.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2021, the MPA data showed.

December bunker sales in Singapore were at a three-month low of 4.18 million tonnes, down 3% from last year and 1% lower than in the previous month, the MPA data showed.

A total of 3,144 ships called at the Singapore hub for bunkering in December, loading an average of 1,329 tonnes of fuel, a two-month high and above the 2021 average of 1,268 tonnes per ship, according to the data.

The higher 2021 marine fuel sales were also supported by rising sales of high-sulphur fuels as more ships fitted with scrubbers - or exhaust cleaning systems that allow them to burn fuels with sulphur content in excess of the global 0.5% limit - joined the global fleet, helping offset a decline in Singapore low-sulphur bunker volumes.

Starting in January 2020, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) capped the sulphur content of ship fuels at 0.5%, down from 3.5% previously.

Singapore high-sulphur fuel oil (HSFO) sales were up 22% from the previous year to a total of 12.89 million tonnes in 2021, while sales volumes of low-sulphur fuels were down 6% from the previous year to a total of 36.95 million tonnes, Reuters calculations showed.

HSFO sales represented 26% of overall demand in the Singapore bunkering hub, up from a 21% share in 2020.

Container throughput in Singapore also held firm at 36.9 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2020, down just 0.9% from 37.2 million TEUs in 2019, the data showed, despite the coronavirus disruptions.

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