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Updated On 6 May 2024 by: Yeo Yu Teng

Transporting palm oil from plantations to mills | From mills to refineries | From refineries to end-product manufacturers | Key challenges | Safe shippingWhere does palm oil come from?

Palm oil stands as one of the most widely used vegetable oils globally, finding its way into nearly half of the products lining supermarket shelves today. Derived from the fruitlet of oil palm after harvesting, this oil embarks on a fascinating journey from plantations to mills, refineries, and eventually to supermarkets worldwide. This article dives into how palm oil is shipped, sheds light on challenges and unique standards to ensure oil quality.

Transporting Palm Oil From Plantations to Mills

Musim Mas truck carrying fresh fruit palm bunches in the plantation

The first leg of palm oil’s journey involves transporting Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFBs) from plantations to mills. These FFBs are usually transported by trucks. These mills are typically located near the plantations to minimize delays in processing, which would otherwise compromise oil quality and extraction rates.

Musim Mas kernel milling plant

Once at the mills, the fleshy part of FFBs undergoes pressing to yield Crude Palm Oil (CPO), while kernels are crushed to extract Crude Palm Kernel Oil (CPKO). These oils are stored in large cylindrical storage tanks, ready to be sold as commodities. They can also be shipped to refineries for further processing.

Shipping Palm Oil From Mills to Refineries

The next stage involves pumping CPO and CPKO from mill storage tanks into oil tanker trucks or ships bound for local or overseas refineries.

Musim Mas oil storage tanks outlet Musim Mas oil storage tanks outlet

Given the long distances involved, chemical tankers are commonly used in the global palm oil trade [1]. These tankers include:

Bulk Tanker

  • Capacity ranges from 4,000 to 19,000 tons
  • Multiple-sized tanks with interconnected valves
  • Suited for carrying single oils in large volumes

Tugboat and Oil Barge

  • Capacity ranges from 2,500 to 6,150 tons
  • Generally used to carry liquid bulk cargo
  • An oil barge is pulled or pushed by a smaller vessel called a tugboat

Coaster Vessel

  • Capacity ranges from 750 to 3,000 tons
  • Cover short sea voyages and handle transshipment from ocean-going vessels

Container Vessel

  • Purpose-built for carrying containers of uniform dimensions
  • Containers can be filled and unloaded at whichever location

Musim Mas refinery

At refineries, CPO and CPKO undergo processing, transforming into various palm oil derivatives catering to diverse industries. For instance, palm oil can be processed into oleochemicals such as fatty acids, fatty alcohols, and glycerine for applications like cosmetics and soaps. Palm oil can also be processed into biodiesel as a source of renewable energy, a more environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. Other popular derivatives for the food industry include cooking oil, margarine, and emulsifiers.

Transporting Palm Oil From Refineries to End-Product Manufacturers

Following the processing into various derivatives, the next challenge is shipping these products to end-product manufacturers or customers. The choice of packaging and shipping method depends on product type, customer demands, destination port, and national cargo requirements. The options include:

  • ISO tanks
  • Flexi-tanks
  • Bulk-in-bags
  • Jerry cans
  • Intermediate bulk containers for liquid cargo
  • Paper bags
  • Cardboard cartons
  • Barrels
Musim Mas oil tankers Musim Mas jumbo bulk bags
Musim Mas paper bag Musim Mas barrels
Musim Mas immediate bulk containers Musim Mas container

Key Challenges When Transporting Palm Oil and Its Derivatives

Transporting palm oil and its derivatives, such as oleochemicals, presents its own set of challenges, requiring careful consideration of factors such as contamination from previously stored products or contact with moisture and air.


As chemical tankers can carry various types of oils and fats, the cargo from one voyage may differ from the next. If the tank isn’t cleaned after unloading its contents and refilled with another, the new goods might be contaminated with the previous oils and fats. Hence, the tank is cleaned before loading new products.

Initially, hot seawater is used to clean the tank. Then, detergent is used to emulsify the residual fatty remnants, as water alone cannot mix with oil. The tank is flushed with distilled water because it lacks chlorides. Normal tap water isn’t used because it contains chlorides, which would leave residual chlorine in the tank that can react with the goods. Finally, the tank is steamed for kosher requirements or ventilated to dry naturally.


Fats and fatty oils, including palm oil, are insoluble in water. However, contact with water may result in the formation of soluble lower fatty acids and glycerol. This process can lead to changes in color from yellow to brown, odor, and taste, and can cause gelling and thickening. To prevent these issues, storage tanks must be thoroughly dried after cleaning to avoid moisture-induced quality degradation.


Ventilation should be avoided at all costs, as introducing fresh oxygen to the cargo promotes oxidation and premature rancidity. Palm oil also bleaches and becomes less yellow when exposed to air. The tank must be filled as fully as possible while considering possible expansion when the oil heats up due to temperature fluctuations. When transporting certain oleochemicals, nitrogen gas is pumped into the tank to create a layer of nitrogen above the goods. This nitrogen blanket helps preserve the oleochemical as nitrogen is an inert gas and doesn’t react with the oleochemical, unlike oxygen.

Safe Shipping and Transportation Through Integrated Palm Oil Logistics

When it comes to transporting edible oils and fats by sea, there are international conventions and industry standards in place to regulate the process. The goal is to make it more efficient and reduce the risks of pollution and contamination.

At Musim Mas, our shipping and logistics operations strictly adhere to International Maritime Organization (IMO) standards. Our cleaning process follows standard tank cleaning procedures and independent tank cleaning guidelines to meet the requirements of the Federation of Oils, Fats, and Seeds Association International (FOSFA) [2]. Additionally, we ensure compliance with regulations like the IBC Code and the ISM Code during the tank cleaning process.

From Tropical Countries to Beyond: Where Does Palm Oil Come From?

Malaysia and Indonesia collectively produce approximately 85% of the world’s palm oil, making them the largest exporting countries by volume.

Export volume of palm oil worldwide chart

Palm oil consumption spans various regions, with top-consuming markets including India, China, the United States, and Europe.

Import volume of palm oil worldwide chart

A robust logistics network is essential to facilitate the global shipping of palm oil. At Musim Mas, we’re one of the world’s largest integrated palm oil companies – involved in growing oil palms, harvesting fruit bunches, processing, refining, developing different products, and shipping to over 200 ports or destinations.

We achieve this through our diverse network of international and regional shipping lines supported by a comprehensive network of freight forwarders and vendors. This enables us to be a reliable partner, delivering palm oil products efficiently and reliably to our customers worldwide.