CIMAC unable to explain marine fuel incidents that occurred earlier this year

The International Council on Combustion Engines (CIMAC) has released a statement on marine fuel incidents that have occurred this year highlighting that it is unable to draw any firm conclusions about the cause of the problems.

CIMAC Working Group Fuels – WG7 – made the statement after the unusually large number of ships that experienced fuel-related problems with seemingly on-spec fuels earlier this year. The statement confirms much of what the International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA) has already said on the issue.

In March 2018, a number of ships experienced operational problems using residual fuels bunkered in Houston. The analyzed fuels met the ISO 8217, Table 2 requirements. The main issue was sticking engine fuel pumps although some vessels also reported separator sludging and filter blocking.

Since then, it is estimated that close to 100 ships, estimated as two to three percent of the bunker deliveries in the Houston area alone, reported problems consuming the fuel received during a nine week period starting in March. In a few cases, the vessels were reported to have been left without propulsion and electrical power.

This was followed by scattered reports of fuel sludging and owners seeking to debunker products they had lifted in Panama and Singapore for fear the Houston problem had spread there. Further it was found that, in Houston, the problematic fuels were supplied by around 10 different suppliers and from a range of barges.

CIMAC says that review of the reported cases has shown that the incidences were not isolated to any specific machinery, component make or brand of affected separators, filters, two-stroke engines or four-stroke engines. Additionally, not all of the fuels had the same fingerprint parameters and a vast majority of the ships bunkering in the affected ports during at the time did not report any issues despite having received fuels which seem to have originated from the same source.

“Based on the results of the extensive fuel analyses performed by the various fuel testing labs represented in CIMAC Fuels, no final and concrete conclusion can be made as to what specifically in the fuel formulation may have caused these incidents,” the CIMAC statement says. “There are no consistent findings across the number of fuels tested (neither on components nor concentrations) that can be used to clearly distinguish problematic fuels from non problematic fuels. In other words, so far, it has not been possible to confidently conclude if the blending process had gone wrong in some way or how any of the unexpected chemical species had made its way (deliberately or accidentally) into the fuel oil.”

Based on the available information, CIMAC Fuels have concluded that so far there is no explanation as to the root cause of the occurred incidents other than the fact that, based on the number of suppliers that have been affected, it can be deduced that some incident has likely occurred further upstream.

“Ultimately it will be up to the arbitrators or courts to decide where the fault lies and whether the claims from the initial findings of the investigation – stating that the fuel in use at the time the operational issues were experienced failed ISO 8217 – can be upheld,” says CIMAC.

CIMAC Fuels advises ship operators that fuel oils should be consumed with extra care, i.e. closely monitor the machinery in those locations where problematic fuels have recently been supplied. An operator experiencing fuel related issues should make certain to duly log the case in detail, documenting the evidence leading up to, during and after the operational problems were experienced, along with any mitigating actions taken. This should include the current status of Remaining On Board (ROB) management, engine machinery maintenance, fuel handling and treatment practices routinely applied.

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