Missing the point
9th February 2012 17:56 GMT

Who is responsible for ensuring that ships are burning fuels that comply with sulphur limits set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) under MARPOL Annex VI?

No regulation can be fully effective without controls and enforcement regimes, and someone needs to check that fuel sulphur limits are being adhered to; a task that falls to Port State Control (PSC) officers.

This is why we have the IMO's 2009 Guidelines for sampling of fuel oil.   It describes how to take the so-called MARPOL sample, which should be taken at the point of transfer of fuel from the supplier to the ship.  PSC can use the MARPOL sample to determine if the ship received fuel that complies with  MARPOL Annex VI regulations.  

But in practice, PSC in many countries take fuel samples directly from the ship's service tanks or fuel systems in order to verify the sulphur content of fuel actually used on board the ship.  Because of this, the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) agreed last year that the 2009 Guidelines should be amended to include guidelines for this activity.

The task of drafting these Guidelines was put to the 16th session of the Sub-Committee on Bulk Liquids and Gases (BLG 16), which met at IMO headquarters last week.  

BLG is meant to be a technical body to help develop regulations for subsequent consideration and adoption by IMO's decision-making bodies, such as the MEPC.  But on this issue, debate quickly turned political.

Several delegations aligned with a statement by Bahamas questioning the need for "this new way" of determining compliance with MARPOL Annex VI, and the Cook Islands delegation said it would amount to "rewriting the convention."

Cook Islands also made several entertaining comments, suggesting it was a bad idea to have PSC officers "crawling all over the ship". Its delegate went on to say "let's get away from this approach" of targeting those much-maligned ship owners and instead monitor bunker suppliers and delivered fuel quality.  Many expressed sympathy for this view, echoing the need to improve controls of the supply side.

Interestingly, many of the delegations that shared the view expressed by Cook Islands have not been very supportive of numerous proposals to the IMO by Norway and INTERTANKO to tighten control of delivered fuel quality.

They are also missing the point about the need to develop further sampling guidelines.

First of all, the IMO's 2009 Guidelines for sampling of fuel oil, relating to the MARPOL sample, already puts the onus on the bunker supplier to provide the ship with compliant fuels. 

Suppliers are also required to specify the fuel's sulphur content on the accompanying bunker delivery note (BDN).

But sulphur content at the engine inlet also depends on fuel handling practices onboard ships.

A ship can receive fuels that comply with the global 3.50% sulphur limit and the current 1.00% sulphur limit for Emission Control Areas (ECAs) from their suppliers, but this won't guarantee that the ship is burning compliant fuels on ECA entry.  

So there is a need for taking samples that determines what is actually used on the ship.

It would not equate to "rewriting the convention" according to one observer, because the IMO fuel verification procedure for MARPOL Annex VI fuel oil samples says:  "The following procedure shall be used to determine whether the fuel oil delivered to and used on board ships is compliant with the sulphur limits required by regulation 14 of Annex VI."

Another shipping source said it was not doing the industry any favours if shipowners were seen as resisting the introduction IMO guidelines for PSC to take proper representative samples of the fuels actually used onboard.

It seems fair to say that both suppliers and ship operators have a responsibility for meeting MARPOL Annex VI sulphur limits.  

As it stands, there are guidelines to determine if suppliers get it right, but no guidelines to help ensure even-handed PSC controls on whether the ship operator has the right fuel procedures.

Unni Einemo,
9th February 2012 17:56 GMT

Comments on this Blog
Dragos Rauta - Intertanko
16th February 2012

At BLG 16 the industry did not resist to sampling of fuel used by ships. It only commented on procedures to ensure sampling is representative and, in support of UK submission, that safe procedures are included in such sampling guidelines.

In any case, testing of a fuel used by a ship has to be connected to a similar control on the same fuel delivered to the ship.

Take for instance Port of Rotterdam. On one hand, PSC in Rotterdam regularly takes samples of fuel used by arriving ships. On the other hand, fuels delivered at Rotterdam are frequently reported to IMO as non-compliant. Ironically, a ship bunkering at Rotterdam has the highest risk of being detained for non-complying with the ECA rules if, coming back to Rotterdam it uses the same ECA fuel delivered at Rotterdam! Same applies to non-ECA fuels delivered at Rotterdam. Reports indicate that some 20% of fuels delivered at Rotterdam since 1 January 2012 had a sulphur content above 3.5% which is the new global cap!

It is quite bizarre but ships may have such experience. The reason is that, on the fuel supply side, compliance is only demonstrated by the sulphur content value in the BDN. There is no provision for an actual control/test on each fuel delivered to ships. Therefore, the procedure of PSC sampling and testing of fuel used by ships should be reviewed within the overall context of means of control of fuel compliance under MARPOL Annex VI. There is a need to make the connection to a control of fuels delivered to ships. Without such a control, the environment will lose as ships cannot miraculously turn non compliant fuels delivered to them into compliant fuels.

PSC sampling and testing of fuels is an indication of lack of trust that ships use the right fuel. This lack of trust is not justified since, on a voluntary basis and at their own cost, ships take samples and test the bunkers delivered to them (including the sulphur content). Although MARPOL Annex VI puts no obligation on ships to sample and test fuels, ships exercise due diligence and yet authorities express lack of trust. Therefore, the industry has a genuine expectation that the control on supply of the fuel is prioritised.

By the way, it was good to hear a number of Administrations acknowledge the need for control of fuels delivered to ships which was previously suggested by Norway and INTERTANKO.
Unni Einemo - The International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA)
16th February 2012
Dear Dragos,

Thanks for your comments - I am aware of the aspects you describe.

I agree with you that the industry itself may not be resisting guidelines for how to take 'in use' fuel samples on ships, but when some national delegations at BLG seem to say there is not a need - this could be seen by some as 'industry reluctance' to conducting sulphur checks on ships. That point was actually made to me by someone in a similar position as yourself.

Indeed it is an irony that Rotterdam appears to have a poor record on delivery of compliant fuels (the 20% above 3.50% you have cited is probably based on DNVPS monitoring of test results on commercial samples) yet Rotterdam PSC appears to do all their sulphur testing on 'in use' fuel samples taken from ships, and not the MARPOL sample taken during delivery to the ship.

But I think you can agree that a ship operator might get the sulphur content wrong for ECA operation if they have both HSFO and LSFO (that are, respectively, compliant with current limits) onboard, due to flawed fuel handling procedures.

I was hinting at the issues you raise by including this line in my blog: "They [suppliers] are also required to specify the fuel's sulphur content on the accompanying bunker delivery note (BDN)."

If suppliers state the correct sulphur content on the BDN, ships should be able to get the ECA changeover procedures right so that the fuel that goes into the engine is compliant.

Of course - if the fuel they received was non-compliant to start with - there is a problem!

The point I was trying to make is that we already have IMO guidelines aimed at monitoring - and by extension controlling - the delivered fuel quality, but no guidelines for how to take the 'in use' fuel oil sample.

Whether PSC authorities are using the existing guidelines effectively is another matter.
Dragos Rauta - Intertanko
17th February 2012
Just to be clear, ships do not blend bunkers onboard. They bunker and keep separately the HFO and the LSFO. Prior entering the ECA, ships start the fuel change over procedure. PSC can inspect the procedure including the records when the changeover has started and can check all data needed to assess compliance that ship has used the LSFO at the time it entered the ECA. Risk of errors is minimal, should the LSFO be compliant.
On the other hand, many LSFOs delivered to ships are the result of blending onboard bunker barges. No one samples and tests these blends. Ships receive a BDN with a sulphur content but there is no test result to back that data up.
Testing the fuel used by ships makes only sense if one first test fuels at delivery. In short, one needs to put priorities right.
Martin Smits
17th February 2012
Mr. Rauta,
I guess you should bare in mind that the common grades of fuels are NOT blended onboard the bunker barges, the product is loaded as a finished grade from a loading terminal. Vessels that are receiving LSFO and HSFO (and some times even Gasoil) are bunkered through the same bunker connection and pipelines onboard the receiving vessel, thus (some) comingling of the products onboard the vessel is a possibility !! Due to the different products (HSFO/LSFO) onboard using the same transfer pumps and pipelines can certainly give some problems and a higher risk of mixing HSFO and LSFO. In contradiction to what you say, we do test all the products onboard our barges just after loading to guarantee that the supplied product will be within the requested specifications and to my knowledge most suppliers in Rotterdam are doing the same. So (in our case) there is a back up of a test result that’s back up the BDN. Since all bunker fuels are bought and sold within the worldwide ISO 8217 specifications, and the herein mentioned applicable test methods (ISO 8754 for the sulphur content) it should be very clear for all parties involved when a product is still within the requested limits. So the different interpretations which are still used instead of using the right mathematic tolerances as described in the ISO specifications makes it only very confusing for a lot of persons.
Dragos Rauta - Intertanko
17th February 2012
Dear Mr Smits,
I note what you say. My comemnts are based on numerous reports from ships and from laboratories testing fuel samples taken during bunker supply. A clear majority of reports registered in the IMO documents on fuels having a sulphur content higher than written in the BDN were from suppliers in ARA, including Rotterdam. According to many years of test results, the sulphur content on fuels delivered at,ARA, includign Rotterdam are substantially higher than the world average monitoried by IMO (late 2009, there were several delievries with S content of 4.7% and 4.8%!).. These test results are performed by recognised the laboratories on samples taken in accordance with the IMO Guideliens.
However, to me it will be more constructive to develop standard procedures for control at delivery stage so that good and professional stakeholders prevail and ships can stay away of trouble and trust the fuels received are compliant with the rule. If there is something wrong on the ship side, that would be assessed by testing samples of the fuel used. A discunnect between the two will always bring arguments on the source of the problem.
Martin Smits
17th February 2012
dear Mr rauta,
It already starts with the right interpretation of the applicable test methods as described in the ISO 8217 specifications. Further the comments you are mentioning regarding the analysis from samples drawn onboard the ships is another worry, although IMO has made guidlines for a correct sample procidure, it is still the case that sampling onboard the receiving has not been done according this procidure, which have resulted in many un-representative analyis reports regarding the correct quality received. I guess before blaming that a lot of product doesn't meet the requested specifications, one should first be sure that we have a representative analysis from a sample drawn in the way which is correct and use the correct mathematic tolerances as described in the test method according the ISO specifications. When this will be done then all problems and or misunderstandings will be solved.

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