Contamination fears fuel calls for greater bunker transparency ahead of 2020


Calls are growing for greater transparency in the bunker industry ahead of the 2020 global sulphur cap.

Following yesterday’s news carried on Splash that the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) is trying to force refineries to conduct testing on low sulphur fuels, a host of other bunker experts have called for greater cooperation among the partners of the bunker supply chain to ensure next year’s sulphur cap proceeds smoothly.

VeriFuel, part of French class society Bureau Veritas, has urged the marine bunker sector, upstream supply chain, and fuel testing organisations, to embrace a new culture that promotes far greater cooperation and transparency in preparation for 2020 and beyond.

Bureau Veritas’ global technical manager for marine fuels, Charlotte Røjgaard, commented in a release issued yesterday: “With under a year to go until the 2020 sulphur cap regulation comes into force, the marine fuel supply chain must band together and use this as an opportunity to help dispel increasingly outdated bunker fuel delivery processes and procedures. A lack of transparency does not adequately serve the interests of the shipowners, shipmanagers, operators, or charterers. Instead of pulling in different directions, we need to work collaboratively for the greater good of the industry.”

There have been a series of marine bunker fuel contamination cases around the world over the past 12 month that have spooked many owners trying to get their heads around how best to meet the sulphur cap requirements.

The International Council on Combustion Engines (CIMAC) has found that no single chemical could be blamed for the engine failures caused by off-specification fuel.

While testing has previously been conducted in isolation, VeriFuel warned yesterday that this approach is not helping to solve the underlying problem. According to VeriFuel, without industry-wide cause-and-effect analysis on a global scale, testing will remain limited to advising owners afterwards what “might” have caused their problem.

Røjgaard explained: “VeriFuel believes that trust is absolutely critical to achieving greater cooperation and transparency. We are committed to working collaboratively to find practical ways to share information, which focus on the technical elements rather than contentious and commercially sensitive details. As digitalisation moves the industry away from slow, analogue processes and procedures, technologies such as blockchain could have an important role to play by delivering greater data transparency, traceability and security in bunker supply chains.”

She concluded: “Treating fuel contamination issues as a commercial opportunity, rather than pulling together at this critical time will not only exacerbate fuel quality challenges, it will also continue a culture of mistrust that has plagued the bunker industry for years. We must all contribute to problem-solving.”

Low sulphur fuel supply is not consistent around the world with IUMI, the global marine insurance body, pointing out this week that this type of fuel often contains a high level of cat fines which onboard systems and processes often fail to filter out. Differences in flashpoint and combustibility are also evident.

IUMI is calling for regulation that obliges refineries to guarantee the quality of their fuel and for vessel operators to enhance their systems, processes and training to protect their vessels against the potential impact of using low sulphur bunkers.

Rahul Choudhuri, managing director of Veritas Petroleum Services (VPS), told Splashtoday that IUMI’s refinery demands were unlikely as the bunker fuels supply chain is complex with blenders and cargo suppliers involved.

Douglas Raitt from Lloyd’s Register’s Fuel Oil Bunkering Advisory Services (FOBAS) told Splash today he was aware of certain bunker suppliers trying to sell compliant product to the market ahead of 2020 on a trial basis. The pushback from buyers, he said, is that they are prepared to do so provided suppliers can demonstrate the fuel is fit for purpose.

Samples are being sent to testing agencies to test new products. However, testing to tables 1 and 2 of ISO 8217 is not enough, Raitt said. “To get full insight in these new fuels the physical properties – tables 1 and 2 testing, chemical composition as well as combustion properties – ideally test bed engine – should be carried out to get a fuller understanding of these fuels general performance.”

Concluding VPS’s Choudhuri had some advice for owners and operators. They will need to get a risk assessment and mitigation plan in place fast, he urged.

“This means deciding which new fuels are going to be used and carrying out detailed R&D testing on these fuels – well in advance – not only on the standard ISO 8217 tests, but also additional stability, compatibility, ignition and combustion, chemical contamination tests,” Choudhuri explained.

Such a preparation would be in line with the IMO Ship Implementation Plan signed off at MEPC 73 as well being aligned to the need for detailed fuel quality testing included in Intertanko’s new Bunker Compliance Guidelines.

“Shipowners and operators need to do their homework and be prepared to implement additional fuel quality tests in preparation for 2020,” Choudhuri stressed.