Mohamed Ellfean has played a pioneering role in developing and expanding bunker quantity surveys (BQS) for Inchcape Shipping Services at the port of Singapore and has been instrumental in the survey team’s success since joining the company as a marine surveyor in 2019.
As the world’s largest bunkering port, all bunker suppliers, bunker craft operators, bunker surveyors and bunker surveying companies operating are required to be licensed by the Maritime Port and Authority of Singapore (MPA).
With support from the management team, Ellfean established the Bunker Survey unit as part of Marine Survey and Inspection (S&I) and helped the organisation to achieve national accreditation for ISO 17020:2012.
This was a milestone as Inchcape became the first shipping agency in Singapore to offer in-house bunker surveying capabilities. Ellfean further led the growth of the Bunker Survey unit, expanding it from a one-man operation to a team of five marine surveyors with a variety of MSI services that cover, among others, bunker quantity surveys to draft surveys, hull and machinery surveys and assessments for P&I cargo, insurance, and loss and damage.
“We are now handling between 80 and 100 bunker survey appointments a month, which is an achievement considering we only started out three years ago,” Ellfean says.
Sharing his views on the MSI team’s successful growth, Ellfean says he believes in a data-driven approach, that there should be continuous effort to improve quality and remain responsive to industry demands, and close collaboration with clients to enhance service experience and ensure services rendered are customised to client needs.
“I am always looking for ways to innovate and improve to ensure a high-quality experience,” he says.
Clearly, hard work does pay off as Ellfean now leads the Bunker Survey team in Singapore and is thereby empowered to lead the team in achieving Inchcape’s organisational goals. His new role requires him to take ownership of the end-to-end customer experience and business operations of the bunkering team.
Importance of upskilling and collaboration amid transformation
Born and raised in the Lion City, Ellfean graduated with a Bachelor of Business in Maritime and Logistics Management from the University of Tasmania in Australia while studying part-time in his previous job with a laboratory testing company for bunker fuel.
“My aim in taking the degree course was to acquire a deeper understanding and knowledge of shipping. It has also helped to open up opportunities in management and wider job prospects beyond traditional survey work onboard vessels,” Ellfean explains.
“I was attracted to Inchcape because, firstly, it has an excellent reputation in the shipping industry and is known for its commitment to quality and innovation. Secondly, the company’s mission and values are aligned with my own personal and professional goals, creating a sense of purpose and shared values. Thirdly, the company’s culture promotes collaboration, diversity and continuous learning, providing a supportive environment for growth and development. Additionally, the opportunity to learn more about the wider port agency segment and gain a greater understanding of the business aspect was a major factor in my decision to join the company,” he says.
His responsibilities now include management of the team’s financial performance by mapping and optimising end-to-end business process while ensuring seamless and consistent delivery of service quality. Ellfean also plans and curates the end-to-end customer journey from the initial engagement to post-delivery support to ensure a fulfilling customer experience.
“Regular interaction with customers is necessary as every service request is unique and expectations are fast evolving over time. It is important that we fully understand the business model of each customer to ensure that we meet their needs and demands. It is also equally important to keep an eye on your competitors to stay ahead of the competition,” he says.
This has helped Ellfean to better understand the business aspects and improve his thought process when considering the value of services.
He also emphasises the importance of coordination and integration of various departments and functions across the organisation to ensure that all aspects of the business are considered when formulating strategies or implementing changes to achieve the organisational objective.
“The employees are the driving force behind the company’s success and growth and as such, effective collaboration is crucial to foster a more holistic approach to solutions. When people from different departments collaborate, they bring their diverse perspectives, experiences and ideas, leading to a more creative and innovative solution,” Ellfean explains.
Fuel for thought
Ellfean already brought with him to the role a strong competence in BQS, especially assessing fuel quantity and quality. This has proven invaluable in building up Inchcape’s BQS business, which accounts for over 50% of its survey and inspection activities in Singapore.
He points out that, while shipowners may seek to procure bunkers to take advantage of lower prices, bunker suppliers are also potentially finding ways to recover ‘losses’ incurred during the purchasing period prior to the bunker delivery as prices are locked in on the date of purchase rather than the actual bunker delivery date at which prices could be higher than the initial contractual offer.
“There are no shortcuts in any field of work if we are to maintain that expected level of service quality for customers. Therefore, it is crucial that every member of the team understands and adheres to standardised bunkering procedures to avoid any conflict of interest and maintain their impartiality throughout the survey process. It is important to note that impartiality ensures fairness and transparency as well as protects the interests of all parties involved, including the shipowner, charterer and bunker supplier,” Ellfean explains.
Ellfean has strong expertise in the entire chain of bunker supply based on his experience, while Inchcape’s global in-house team of bunker quantity surveyors are both independent and certified by the International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA), which gives credibility to fuel assessments.
However, the job is not without its challenges, especially when there are physical limitations in accessing bunker data as was the case during the recent Covid-19 pandemic when Ellfean and his team could be prevented from boarding vessels or confined to the main deck due to social distancing restrictions, which hampered the survey process.
Ellfean emphasizes that unrestricted access to survey areas is necessary to gain adequate information and resources, which are key factors in traceability and quality management. It is also essential for all parties involved to establish clear lines of communication prior to the bunkering operation to ensure an effective and efficient survey process, he explains.
Survey work is obviously proceeding more smoothly with Covid-19 restrictions now lifted, while Ellfean has found that increased interaction with customers to build relationships of trust through the delivery of BQS has had a beneficial spin-off for business as it presents opportunities to provide other MSI services such as cargo hold inspections, marine warranty surveys, cargo damage claims, and underwater hull inspections and cleaning.
Surveying new opportunities
Ellfean points out that clients can benefit from a single contact point by accessing BQS and other marine services through Inchcape as a one-stop service provider, with the assurance that these are performed according to the highest international standards on QHSSE, ethics and compliance by an expert team of surveyors including master mariners and chief engineers with strong maritime competence.
Ellfean has been called upon by Inchcape to explore other places as the company seeks to expand its regional footprint, notably Indonesia where he visited to look at the possibility of replicating the Singapore MSI model, while adapting it in relation to the country’s major export and import commodities.
“I’m grateful for being given the opportunity to explore the business region in which we can raise the visibility of our MSI products in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia,” he says.
Ellfean aims to establish a strong presence in key markets within the South-East region by leveraging Inchcape’s global network and forging strategic partnerships to penetrate these markets and gain a significant market share.
Playing as a team
As a former footballer who played at right-back for a reserve team in Singapore’s professional league in his younger days, Ellfean knows that enabling players to reach their full potential in their best positions is key to success.
In his role as a team leader, he is therefore keen to empower colleagues by facilitating courses and other training opportunities to enhance their skillset as he believes this is a big motivational factor to improve work performance, which he has experienced himself.
“It has been rewarding to see the growth of the team and I am proud of what we have achieved in terms of the expanded range of services and improved service delivery. I look forward to further developing the capabilities of the team to ensure our continued success,” Ellfean states.
And, similar to his own career path, he also encourages potential young recruits to the port agency business to acquire experience in interconnected fields of work so they can understand the entire value chain in that particular area.
“Sometimes you need to step out of your comfort zone to embrace new challenges and gain different experiences as this is the best way to develop your capabilities,” Ellfean says.
Going forward, he envisions fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration within the organisation, and constantly pushing the boundaries of technology and embracing new trends to stay ahead of the competition and maintain Inchcape’s position as a market leader.