Testing means
17th December 2010 03:44 GMT

2010 has been an interesting year with a number of important regulations introduced and great strides have been made in improving fuel standards. The introduction of the revised ISO 8217 standard in particular drew a loud debate with numerous industry players voicing their concerns. However, it is worthwhile to carefully examine whether the hue and cry over the cited limitations of these standards have a real basis in fact.

Most recently, the issue of H2S has been raised again with some testing agencies declaring that the 2.00 mg/kg limit was insufficient to protect from the dangers of H2S. In November, FOBAS issued a bulletin addressing some of these concerns. While theory is undoubtedly important in establishing guidelines, the conclusion should be grounded in a fair amount of reality and based on facts before declaring danger.

A technological possibility of complete removal of H2S from bunkers does exist, but it would need to be assessed against the price of such fuel treatment before implementation of such a step on a large industrial scale. After all, the use of residual fuel for so many years as marine fuel has been almost solely based on cheaper price market drivers.

The established H2S limit is a preventive measure as there have not been widespread reports of shipowners facing problems with H2S, nor is it a new issue and most are aware of the potential problems as well as the measures to guard against it as part of overall occupational safety hazard measures.

While speculation also ran rife regarding the projected increase in off-specification fuels with the introduction of the new standard, the reality was that the vast majority of fuels fell within the new specification limits regardless whether they were using the ISO 8217:2005 or ISO8217:2010 standard. In fact, the new limits bore in mind the qualities of fuel already being available in the market, the tightening limits left less leeway for variation but most fuels supplied today already meet ISO 8217:2010 standards.

The situation in laboratories can be far removed from the realities on ships themselves. While safety is of course a key concern, we have found that issuing baseless warnings against contaminants that may be totally harmless and are not based on real dangers can cause more harm than good and lead to a significant amount of disinformation being disseminated and confusion created throughout the industry.

The danger of raising suspicions before they are substantiated by both further study and empirical evidence of damage on ships is to confound the industry and will lead to increased costs in terms of time and money. Fuel testers are often regarded as experts, as we should be, however, it is therefore extra important that we weigh what we say in acknowledgment that there are implications when we sound warnings.

As fuel testing agencies, we have a responsibility to work in the best interests of our customers. This does not only mean ensuring that they receive fuel that is tested to be safe for use and fit for purpose, but also that they are not burdened by unnecessary costs. It is increasingly beginning to seem that the key interest of testing agencies is to drum up more sample numbers rather than doing a technically sound job as a fuel testing service provider. Ship owners rely on us to provide sound technical advice and potential problems are not necessarily actual problems - crying wolf is in no one's interest.

Douglas Raitt,
17th December 2010 03:44 GMT