Clause 5.1 - Quid est veritas?
24th February 2009 07:33 GMT


Welcome to this the first of an ongoing series of blogs from FOBAS. Why a blog? Well it has always been the intent of FOBAS to be an active, constructive, part of the bunker industry and through this blog we hope to provide yet another route by which we can share our knowledge, thoughts and concerns with yourselves.

As anybody who has kept even half an eye on developments over the last year or so will know the bunker industry generally is going to be subject to a number of new drivers – not that the old ones have gone away! - particularly in coming to terms with the future legislative frameworks ( a term where the plural is regrettably very necessary) and the possibilities of bio-derived fuels from an exotic range of sources. Set these against the global factors of the turmoil in the financial and oil markets and the resulting impacts on shipping, the industry is indeed heading for uncharted waters.

Fuel oils, as loaded and as handled onboard, still remain a serious concern with regard to the reliability of ship’s and their machinery and hence the onboard workload. None of this is seen as being set to change in the near future and even in the longer term doubts would be expressed as to whether it will ever be a ‘plug and play’ world.

So, on that note, FOBAS looks forward to providing these blogs over the years to come. We hope you find them of interest. 


Clause 5.1 - Quid est veritas?

What is truth? This is certainly a phrase that should come to mind to any person dealing with marine bunker fuels and its associated quality specification. The bunker industry should be well familiar with ISO 8217 of which clause 5.1 is frequently quoted by industry players as a joker card for almost any 'anomaly' concerning bunker fuels.

For those reading this blog not immediately familiar with clause 5.1, it is one of those generic clauses in ISO 8217 which states that fuels are to be blends of hydrocarbons, free of waste components, not jeopardise the safety of a ship or adversely affect the machinery, harm the  crew or add to air pollution.
With more and more 'toys for the boys' becoming available to the testing industry, such as GC-MS and FT-IR, there has been a flurry of some wild exotic diverse discoveries in bunker fuels over recent years. Today it seems many test laboratories are jumping onto the populist band wagon and citing one contaminant over another in a seemingly magnanimous attempt to protect end users from fuel related problems and risks.
From polymers to styrene to DCPD to organic chlorides such as trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene and dimethly esters of hexanedoic acid, we have seen it all over the years. While some of these compounds may well affect performance of the fuel if present in sufficient quantities, whatever those are for a particular system, there are other cases where we simply do not yet know what the implications of certain compounds might be on a fuel in service.

In the testing industry's undoubtedly 'noble' attempts to identify potential further risks associated with fuels beyond tables 1 and 2 in the ISO 8217 specification, is it possible that we are getting a little carried away? Admittedly the advanced instruments that are now routinely available to the industry have significantly helped in many cases by identifying root causes of fuel failures. This has however also resulted in a situation where the more we test for potential contaminants in fuel, the more compounds we find, the implications of which we do not necessarily understand. However, simply condemning a fuel outright due to the presence, rather than effect, of any such compounds by stating clause 5.1 appears to be too generic an approach leading to tensions in the supply chain together with costly and unnecessary disputes.
Ultimately, it all comes down to 'fit for purpose' reasoning, i.e. is a fuel fit for use and capable of fulfilling its intended purpose. By generically condemning a fuel using clause 5.1 distorts this reasoning, as it is not based on hard evidence or facts, and indeed many of the 'contaminants' so found in bunker fuels often originate from the petroleum industry in the first place.  
It is the FOBAS view that the bunker industry should work together to better understand the nature and implications of the compounds found in bunker fuel and hence come up with a more uniform approach, which serves and protects all stakeholders in the supply chain. This requires a robust industry debate, potentially within those bodies such as the CIMAC fuels Working Group between all stake holders with the hope and aim of not only ascertaining what compounds in fuel may be damaging but more importantly at what concentration levels should the industry err to the side of caution when deciding if a fuel is fit for purpose, or not, and how that is to be reflected in fuel specifications; whether 'in-house', CIMAC, ISO or others.  

What is truth? With some effort from all the stakeholders in the bunker supply chain, we may get there in the end, at least when it comes to interpreting clause 5.1.

Douglas Raitt,
24th February 2009 07:33 GMT