IBIA update and request for support to develop contaminated fuel solutions

The International Bunker Industry Association IBIA) has warned members that, subsequent to it publishing a comment on June 15th on the serious issues faced by ship owners in the US Gulf relating to contaminated fuel, there had been no meaningful resolution to the problem.

IBIA said that anecdotal reports put the number of vessels affected at more than 100.

It noted that there were a range of opinions regarding:

  • the root cause(s) of the problem;
  • the parties who should be held accountable;
  • recommended action for each of the key participants in the supply chain;
  • potential changes to current operational procedures and standards.

IBIA said that presently there was no consensus, and not all stakeholders were willing to share their findings and views publicly.

In its latest update IBIA said that it would not address the issue of jurisdictional law, assuming for the purposes of this update that the buyer of fuel was the ship owner.

IBIA said that it stood by its original comment from June 2018 and recognised that generalizations were just that. It added that speculating as to the root causes might result in suggestions that fault lay with parties who would later be proven to have acted fully in accordance with best industry practice.

IBIA warned that generally perceived wisdom could occasionally prove to be unfounded. As such IBIA said that nobody should construe its update as guidance.

The questions asked by IBIA were: “What has been conclusively resolved?” and “what is the current range of opinions among industry experts?”.

What is the root cause?

IBIA said that it was far from clear that all of the reported cases shared the same root cause. Not all testing companies and experts were offering the same view.

The issues associated with problem fuels had manifested in the form of sticking and seizures of fuel injection systems components (mainly pumps), blocked fuel filters, or both. In some cases these issues had been so severe as to cause a loss of main engine power.

Generally Perceived Wisdoms

  1. IBIA said that a common view was that the fuels causing sticking of fuel pumps contained compounds that might have been introduced into the supply chain via inappropriate cutter stocks used in the production of bunkers at one or more refineries and/or terminals. But IBIA warned that at the moment this was purely speculation, adding that, in similar cases in the past, the source of the contaminant was never adequately identified. In summary, the root cause was generally speaking a lack of control of the quality of cutter stock used in the marine pool.
  2. There was also the possibility that the problems stemmed from cross-contamination due to a new product cargo being loaded into multi-purpose storage tanks that were not previously sufficiently well emptied and cleared.
  3. A third view was that the cases were not all related. In cases where only sludge formation had been reported, it could have been caused by incompatibility between a new product and existing residues remaining in tanks.

As IBIA observed, where there was a lack of certainty as to cause there was necessarily also an uncertainty as to where liability lay. IBIA said it was likely that some questions might be raised about previous bunker fuels carried on vessels and the on-board fuel management procedures. As such, IBIA said that “ship owners would be well advised to carefully document procedures and retain all relevant fuel samples”.

Request for support to develop solutions

IBIA said that, of its many corporate and individual members employed in the laboratory testing industry, some might believe that this issue would be best left to the likes of ISO, ASTM or CIMAC and/or the testing companies. However, IBIA said that it would be developing a proposal to form a Working Group with participation from all of the key parties involved in fuel oil testing in order to address the current issue and the potential solutions, including the development of a globally consistent method and protocol.