Lessons learnt from bunker fuel contamination incident highlighted by UK P&I Club

The UK P&I Club has issued guidance about a bunker fuel contamination incident which occurred onboard a general cargo ship during loading a bulk cargo. The Club has, provided details of what happened and highlights the important lessons learned.

This vessel was loading a bulk cargo in two of the vessel’s lower holds. During the loading operation, the vessel bunkered 500 MT of HFO into no.’s 2 port and starboard fuel oil side tanks. Shortly after the completion of bunkering operations, the Chief Engineer (C/E) noticed the level of no.2 port fuel oil tank was decreasing from observation of the remote gauging system.

Upon investigation, the C/E found a large quantity of fuel oil in no.3 cargo hold ladder trunk and immediate measures were taken to transfer fuel from no.2 port to other bunker tanks. It was calculated that about 60 MT of fuel had leaked into no.3 cargo hold containing about 2,200 MT of cargo. Further investigation revealed that the oil was leaking from an inadequately secured tank access cover. Approximately 200 MT of cargo was contaminated, which was segregated, packed in bags and discharged.

The vessel was a new building and it was the first time that no.2 port fuel oil tank had been filled since departing the shipyard. It was apparent that one of the tank access lids had not been properly closed at the time of delivery as a large number of securing nuts were found to be slack after the incident.

Although the damaged cargo was sold to a local salvage buyer at a depreciated value, a very large amount of time and expense was consumed in handling and storing the damaged cargo as well as in thoroughly cleaning the contaminated cargo holds.

Lessons Learnt
The first voyage of a vessel after delivery from the builders is critical and very often the time when shipyard deficiencies are discovered, sometimes with serious consequences.
Prior to taking delivery from builders, the water/oil tight integrity of tanks must be tested and confirmed by Owners representatives.
The failure to ensure that bunker and ballast tank access lids in way of the cargo hold boundaries are tight before commencement of the voyage may render the vessel unseaworthy. In the event of a claim, the Owners ability to rely on customary Hague Visby Rule rights and immunities will be prejudiced.

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