Bunker fuel and its chemical screening importance in shipping operations

Regular marine fuel quality testing is gaining importance just to reduce any issues that might arise in the vessel’s day to day activities and for the probable loss that might arise due to the contaminated bunker fuel.

The ray of problems which arises due to the bad marine fuel beat it be heavy fuel oil to modern low sulphur fuels which might result from downtime to ultimate engine failure to breaking down of the vessel in the middle of the voyages. If left unchecked, the cost of repair of the vessel might come from couple of hundreds of dollars to significant charges. Thus, it cannot be left unchecked and chemical screening become even more important to reduce the operational risks associated with it.

Bunker Fuel Quality analysis not only prevents the ship parts like ship engine failure but also reduces its downtime and repairs costs drastically. With more ISO regulations and more ports adopting to the ISO regulations, Bunker fuel quality analysis report also helps ship owners to meet their marine fuel environmental regulatory compliances.

As all know that the most estimates suggests that bunker costs comprises of 50 – 60% of the carrier’s total operating expense thus rightly making it the largest component of the carrier’s variable cost base.

Thus it becomes even more vital for more involvement and extreme consideration of the shipping company and the ship owners to see their the ship operating cash flows and it is undoubtedly bunker fuel have the potential to make its fortunes.

Bunker fuel quality is one of the part that due to the above mentioned reasons cannot be overemphasised. Inferior quality bunkers can cause for additional working hours for engine room leading to crews of the ships working for hours on resolving the problem but also might lead to extensive and costly damage to propulsion and power generating machinery or in some cases might lead to cause vessel immobilisation and ultimately may jeopardise the safety of the vessel, its crew and the cargo that she might be carrying.

In recent times shipping companies have become more aware of this and bunker fuel quality attracts the attention of the whole shipping industry. But from time to time this attention is not for good reason unfortunately.

Like recently the high sulphur fuel oil contamination crisis that occurred in Singapore which was reported in earlier in the year of 2022. This is the most recent incident that happened after almost 20 years. Tough Singapore Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) took very quick and decisive actions to mitigate and contain the consequences of supplies of contaminated HSFO (High Sulphur Fuel Oil). After this too an approximate of 200 ships bunkered the contaminated HSFO among which almost 80 vessels suffered with the damages in some way or the other due to affected fuel bunkering.

Singapore Case was investigated in October 2022 by the International Council on Combustion Engines (CIMAC) who released their findings the HSFO fuel although met the ISO 8217 2017 specifications yet many ships had reported operational difficulties with the engines they faced, which was specified by CIMAC Working Group Fuels (WG7) notes.

During the findings of the whole scenario, The WG7 have emphasized on the typical problems which the vessels have reported due to the contaminated fuel and how it correlates them with chlorinated organic compounds (COC).

The most common finding that was noticed by all WG7 in the Analysis of data and operational feedback received to date from the 80 ships suggested that fuels with a total organic chlorine content below 50 mg/kg (EN 14077) could be considered as containing de-minimis levels of organic chlorides.

The International Council on Combustion Engines (CIMAC) is a global non-profit association consisting of engine manufacturers, engine users, research organisations and other stakeholders interested in developing and using diesel and gas engines and gas turbines for propulsion and power generation. CIMAC Working Group 7 Fuels prepares recommendations on various fuel use, properties, and quality aspects.

Another case that occurred and reported by DNV was in 2015 it is a good example of the incident where in an increase in biocomponent was found the marine diesel fuel. The marine diesel Fuel meet the specification as the consistency of the biocomponent in the fuel was not specified in the specifications. This not only increased the risk of microbial contamination. The report also shows that the biocomponent percentage has been increasing year on year and it is about 11% of all the marine diesel fuel oil (distillate fuels) contain this at the moment.

Yet another example of the same is from the heavy fuel side in which the mixing of new and existing fuels, which have the tendency to increase the in-stabilise of these fuels in the tanks.

MARPOL testing is the best way possible to reconcile these issues, but not all are actually doing this testing, in fact only about 20–25% have been doing this fuel testing. The only reason behind this is that it can up to six days to get these results back, and by that time vessels might already have been sailing for almost a week resulting the need to use the fuel that is already in the tank. Resulting into multiple issues that arise with it.

Probable Issues faced with Bunker Fuel ?

Usage of Bunker fuel might result to following issues if not kept in check. Usage of Fuel oil and Diesel Fuels both comes with its own challenges.

In case of heavy fuels, the most common problem is with the stability and with the ominous catalytic fines which have the tendency to wear down vessels engines, even though the fuels incorporated by the vessel is within specifications.

In case of marine diesel fuel there are more problems with the involvement of bio fuels which might risk the microbial impact on the fuel thus leading to vessel facing issue with storage of fuel for longer duration and might affect the lubricity of the fuel in the engine.

Water content is a common problem in both fuel grades.

Most of these issues are avoidable, and the good news is that this can be detected very easily, if they can be treated before they cause any harm to the vessel fuel system or engine it will help in working of the vessel smoothly.

Solutions to the problems can be as follows if the Shipping companies would like to resolve and reduce such incidents:

  1. Currently there are a number of different test kits on the market and the precautionary measures which helps in identifying the probable issues with the fuel. So, shipping companies can use them to identify if the fuel is good quality.
  2. It is clear from all of the above, in order to avoid any such situations, regular fuel testing is vital as it ensures that the fuel oil that vessel has bunkered and if it is fit for purpose these fuels.
  3. Now as in the market fuel oil becomes popular leading to more players in market and more regulated by different bodies, the need for consistency, and being thorough for the usage of different vessels become all the more important.
  4. All the oil companies, suppliers or users, are now aware how much difference in quality can happen and the effect of contaminated fuel can create severe issues and might be a danger to the all the people involved in the shipping sector. Fuelling being one of the major shareholders in the operations of the vessels, it comes even more vital that all the players do their tasks and check the fuel consistently.

– Astha Sharma