Analytical fuel testing needed to avoid bad bunkers, Exponent’s director says

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According to Chris Dyson, a director of Exponent’s London office, the implementation of the 2020 low sulfur regulations, will result in considerable growth in the demand for blended fuel oils. Current estimations speak for a demand of about 233 million tons in blended oils. Necessarily, to cover the increased demand, new sources of blended oil will appear and new suppliers with minimum or zero experience will enter the market. Subsequently, available blends are expected to materially increase both in terms of variation and number.

It is still unsure how increased blending and new oils will affect vessels’ operations however it is expected that the risk for off-spec, contaminated or incompatible bunkers will be increased, Chris Dyson says. Further to this, he adds that “present testing may no longer provide adequate indication and safeguards for post 2020 fuels” and “as the bunkers diversify in terms of products, regional sourcing and blends, the trend is likely to become more problematic for shipowners, operators and other stakeholders”. These problems may result to engine stoppages, repair costs, loss of earnings and legal expenses, he notes.

The question is how the industry can mitigate those additional risks arising out of the new regulation. A more analytical approach to fuel testing is a way to prevent the problems from bad bunkers, Chris Dyson believes. In contrast to the standard fuel tests which are currently used to verify bunker quality in line with ISO 8217, analytical fuel tests go one step further and focus on “the possibilities of complex fuel contamination, compatibility and instability issues”.

Even this approach will not give perfect results though and two negative issues may be encountered. First, these additional tests are not standardised and therefore variations in result may occur among the various laboratories. Second, delays in concluding these tests may be significant especially in periods where widespread problems occur. Such delays may make Shipowners or Charterers feel uncomfortable when they face an issue with off-spec or contaminated fuel and they need to take a quick decision on whether to consume or debunker the fuel and replace with new one.

According to Chris Dyson, the industry believes that those quality issues may be improved either against higher transparency or further regulations. However, while the 2020 deadline is approaching, Shipowners are amid preparations for the new multi-fuel era and the environment still remains so complex and cloudy, Exponent’s director suggests Owners and Charterers to seek experts’ advice when they are faced with such a situation of bad bunkers.

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