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Focus on fuel segregation risks, not contaminated fuel

Poor quality bunkers and the incident of contaminated fuel in Houston last year has sparked fears of this happening to any shipowner and operator, as 1 January 2020 approaches. But, with seven months to go before the deadline, planning how to maintain segregation when the new 0.50% fuel starts coming on board, ought to be a more immediate concern.

Here, Tim Wilson, Principal Specialist on fuel, lubes and exhaust emissions at Lloyd’s Register, argues that the risk of contaminated fuel will remain as low as it is today when it comes to the new 0.50% fuels, and as the industry makes the switch from High Sulphur Fuel Oil to Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil outside Emission Control Area operations:

“Right now, seven months before the deadline, one of the biggest challenges, and what is uppermost in shipowners’ minds, is being ready to handle the segregation of the new 0.50% fuel that will come on board,” says Wilson.

“For poor quality bunker cases – when something in the fuel should not have been there, causing the ship operational problems – we are looking at less than 0.01%, or even lower, of the bunkers taken on board globally. Fuel contamination cases are rare, but the risk of operational problems caused by a lack of segregation of the new fuel on board is very real.”

Finding fuel stability – not an easy job

According to Wilson, while there is a small risk from contaminated fuel, it will be difficult to find a bunker supplier in the market that has not acknowledged the risk of selecting inappropriate blend stocks. With the 2020 sulphur regulation, attention to what is blended to keep the fuel below 0.50% has increased greatly.

“The suppliers need to understand the impact of the chosen blend stocks they plan to use on the ship machinery plant. The fuel contamination case in Houston was related to high sulphur fuel and had nothing to do with low sulphur fuel at all,” he says. But there are some serious lessons to be learned by all stakeholders.

“There is so much attention on what is being blended and the knowledge of what is actually going into that blend to make the 0.50% fuel. Not only are suppliers aiming for 0.50%, but the end product must be fully homogenous and stable at the point of delivery. They need to know what they have blended to be certain that it is not going to fall apart on board. That is a huge challenge for producers, and it is not an easy job, although we are encouraged to see a number of oil majors making their declarations as to where their fuels will be available globally,” says Wilson.

He adds that while the International Maritime Organization has raised the concept of “quality-oriented supplier”, it is difficult for the industry to decide or define exactly what that means. “Eventually, the user will make that decision,” says Wilson. “It is a similar situation to when you go through an airport and are asked to press the red or the green ‘smiley’. Is this airport a good one or a bad one? With the new regulation and the new fuels coming into the market, there are high risks at stake and, in the early days, suppliers cannot afford to give themselves a bad name.”

Every fuel type loaded will be different

According to Wilson, a ship operator can already find 0.50%-compliant fuel in some major ports, if sufficient notice is given, but the viscosity of the blends is, and will be, wide and varied.

A segregation policy and preparing the crew – from the motormen to the engineers in the engine room – is vital at this point in the process of preparing for the deadline. There is much concern that the new and diverse fuels will be incompatible. Working out a segregation and possible co-mingling strategy should be fundamental to the ship’s bunkering operations, as well as helping operators and owners to understand the implications for the crew on board.

“Every fuel type loaded now will be different, or slightly different, from the previous fuel, unlike what the crew is used to currently. Segregation of the fuel will be important. Having said that, we are still expecting a high number of these new fuels to be compatible. Despite this, segregation is still highly recommended,” says Wilson.

“Follow that policy, and you will cut out the majority of your problems on board when handling the fuels.”
Source: BIMCO Bulletin Magazine – June 2019 issue (http://portfolio.cpl.co.uk/BIMCO/201906/cover/)

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