Bunker fuel quality - perception or reality?
10th May 2010 02:59 GMT

Recently, one of the industry fuel testing services raised the point that clause 5 of the recently released FDIS ISO8217:2010 is, in their view, in favour of suppliers. It was cited as an escape clause because it does not explicitly limit alien compounds in marine fuel oils other than stating that these be present at 'de-minimis levels in a fuel which will not render the fuel unacceptable for use in marine applications'. I am unsure as to whether they realise that it is currently impossible to precisely define which contaminants and/or waste, and the levels at which they would harm a ship's engines, simply because there is currently no industry consensus on appropriate forensic analysis test methods and no engine performance testing.

It has also been mooted that the clause, which states that such contaminants can come from 'refineries, fuel terminals or other supply facilities', will give suppliers an excuse to supply contaminated fuel. The truth is that this clause simply reflects the realities of the supply chain process, as well as the current limitations of the industry, since contamination of bunker fuel can occur at any point in the supply chain, from the time it leaves a refinery to the point of delivery, and it can be difficult to prove that the supplier was indeed at fault.

In my first blog on Bunkerworld I mentioned that simply condemning a fuel outright due to the presence, rather than effect, of any such compounds by stating clause 5.1 might be too generic an approach, which could result in tensions in the supply chain together with costly and unnecessary disputes. Testing at every stage of the supply chain would help to prevent disputes, but ultimately it all boils down to whether a fuel as received by the ship is fit for use and able to fulfil its intended purpose. Simply condemning a fuel due to the presence of anomalies rather than hard technical evidence or facts, is to impose unnecessary costs upon an industry already struggling to make ends meet.

Two years ago at SIBCON, I challenged the industry to work together toward identifying common user guidelines for high-level 'forensic' test methods. Dismissing all compounds and contaminants as being harmful to fuel engines would be extremely costly for all stakeholders. What is required is greater research into the link between specific contaminants and engine performance. While forensic analysis is an important tool there is a need for the testing industry to come together to identify common user guidelines and appropriate limits for various contaminants. As my colleague, Wanda Fabriek pointed out at the time; if all testing agencies have their own secret and proprietary methods, we have a problem.

Several testing agencies voiced some support for this suggestion and there seems to be agreement that this is necessary for us to meaningfully advance the industry. However, little commitment for such a global alliance has been demonstrated as yet, despite the vocal objections of the industry to the recent revisions.

FOBAS has joined an industry initiative in February 2010 entitled 'Marine Residual Fuel Oils Contamination Study'. This project was initiated by Intertek Sunbury, UK and currently there are a dozen or so participants. It would be timely and opportune indeed if the testing industry at large joined this cross industry collaborative study. I am sure we will hear more about the outcomes from this important industry collaborative work in the future.

As a fuel testing company, our foremost concern has been to provide a useful service to the industry and ensure that all our stakeholders receive sound practical advice that makes economic sense, without compromising safety or the truth. Fuel testing organisations must wake up to the fact that greater transparency and the disclosure of knowledge and ideas is actually good for business. We must take decisive steps towards shaping, moulding and standardising our test methods, working collaboratively to provide an informed and united consensus by the time the next revisions to the marine fuel standards are considered.

Douglas Raitt,
10th May 2010 02:59 GMT