Recent reports of a rise in fuel contamination cases have increased the industry’s concerns over quality and safety of blended fuels as 2020 approaches. And for a good reason. A spike in demand for new low sulphur blends from 1 January 2020 will greatly increase the risk of contamination.
Lars Robert Pedersen, Deputy Secretary General of BIMCO calls for bunker states to take responsibility.
When the IMO’s 0.5% sulphur limit comes into force in 16 months, blending will increase significantly. Suppliers will have to blend the traditional heavy fuel with a lot of lighter refined products – products which are often cheap and of rather poor quality – to reduce the level of sulphur.
“The risk that the new low sulphur fuel is not of the quality that it should be, and that it will cause operational problems, is bound to increase with the new sulphur regulation.
“The low sulphur fuel products needed on 1 January 2020 are not developed yet. The suppliers do not know yet what they will look like or what blending components will go in there. That is a concern,” says Pedersen.
Bunker states must step up
Prevention of potential contamination cases is difficult. However, the shipping industry can, and should, call on bunker states to take responsibility. Certainly when authority caught suppliers supplying bad fuel, they should take action.
“Bunker states have committed under the MARPOL Annex VI to take action against suppliers in their territory, if they supply fuel that is different from what they declare. Should the bunker fuel delivered not match the bunker delivery note, the states have an enforcement obligation. Unfortunately, this is not really happening. Therefore, there is little consequence if a supplier is caught supplying bad bunker fuel. That is unsatisfactory,” says Pedersen.
“By states taking legal action – like they have committed to do – every time contaminated and unsuitable fuel is distributed, it would become too expensive for the suppliers to continue this practice.
“It is not a 100% guarantee, but the shipping industry needs proof that states will take this serious ahead of 2020. It needs to change.”
One way for shipowners and operators to prevent operational problems is to place all new fuel in empty tanks. Another is doing a full analysis and screenings for known contaminants. Ideally, they should check before receiving the fuel. If not possible, they should check after bunkering and before using onboard.