What is a Bunker?

20th June 2017

If you ask anyone outside the shipping industry what a bunker is, they would probably say it is an underground shelter to hide in during wartime, or a large sandy area on a golf course. In our daily conversations at work however, the word bunker refers to the marine fuel used to power a ship.

As a verb, it is the process of fuelling a ship. As a noun, it is a fuel tank on board a ship, or the fuel itself. Without thinking too much about it, we use the word bunker in several different ways, depending on the context. For example:

“The person I met last week has been on the phone asking for bunkers”

“The ship wants us to bunker overnight so they can depart early in the morning”

The word bunker originated in the days when ships were powered by steam from burning coal – then, the bunker was the container on board the vessel where the coal was stored. Nowadays, ships run on distillate or residual petroleum products that are made from crude oil in refineries, so the word bunker has evolved to mean something else, which only people who know about shipping understand.

So next time you mention the word bunker to someone outside the shipping industry and they look at you quizzically, don’t worry. They are probably thinking about sheltering from bombs or playing golf in the sand, and have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.