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February 18, 2010

Clean fuel can bring new problems

Regulations for the restriction of air pollution from ships will mean extra costs and responsibilities for shipowners, warns Gerry Williams, principal surveyor at BMT Marine & Offshore Surveys Ltd., a subsidiary of BMT Group, Speaking at a London insurance market seminar, Mr. Williams said: "Burning ships' fuel in an environmental manner is a huge challenge."

Describing fuel technology as a discipline, and a science, on its own, he noted that most shipowners currently use a fuel mix containing on average worldwide 2.6% sulfur.MARPOL Annex VI regulations specify a reduction in July 2010 for ships to 1%, and in 2015 to 0.1% in Environmental Control Areas.

"Potentially, this could result in some ships carrying four different fuel types at any one time. The complex changeovers will inevitably increase the opportunity for errors which in turn may lead to costly claims," explained Mr Williams.

To comply with the regulations, a ship's officer will have to demonstrate in the record-keeping that fuel has been changed in sufficient time before crossing into a control area. The changeover can be done in approximately one hour, but if it is done too quickly "there is a danger you can gas up the engine." A rapid change of temperature can also cause thermal shock or seizure of the fuel pumps.

Starting his year, a raft of legislation limiting sulfur in marine fuels to 0.1% will come into force. This includes EU Sulfur Directive (2005/33/EC) for most ships 'at berth' in EU ports (1/1/2010), CARB Regulated California Waters regulations, mandating the use of ISO8217: 2005 DMA or DMB grade fuels in main and auxiliary engines and auxiliary boilers (1/1/2012) and MARPOL Annex VI for fuel oils to be used inside Emission Control Areas (1/1/2015). Currently, according to a survey, the average sulfur content in heavy fuel oil is 2.46%, although some environmentally conscious owners already have a sulfur limit of 1.5% in their specification. Yet there is little experience around of the likely effects of using 0.1% sulfur, said Mr Williams, and this experience may come at a premium as the new requirements take effect.

Looking at other fuel concerns, Mr, Williams said that what was described as "bad fuel" in casualties had more to do with poor handling, rather than sub-standard fuel.

In one example, a chief engineer experiencing severe purification problems, such as heavy sludging, forced through out of specification fuel rather than reporting a problem, and as a result wrecked the engine. Poor management of even above average specification fuel can cause a very costly failure, warned Mr. Williams.

Since 2001, BMT surveyors have dealt with at least 30 instances of engine damage caused by fuel problems related to catalytic fines. This problem is increasing and is likely to get worse with the additional demands for low sulfur fuels. Each of these casualties required a complete renewal of pistons, liners and injectors, at a cost of $1 million to $3 million each. One resulted in a vessel failing to keep up with a convoy and falling victim to Somali pirates.

Another problem is that of unscrupulous suppliers adding waste to their product, inflicting serious damage. Chemical and other wastes have been found in fuel selling at $500 a ton. On one occasion fuel was contaminated by waste from the cosmetics industry.

"The engineer surveyor had a difficult time explaining to his wife when he came back from survey why he smelt of perfume when he usually smelt of the engineroom," noted Mr. Williams.

Mr. Williams called for strict controls by shipping companies over their use of fuel. He urged that they institute or improve fuel management programs to ensure sampling before use and regular inspection of handling. He noted that Maersk does not allow its ships to use any fuel until thoroughly analyzed and after confirmation by the technical management ashore that it can be used.


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