Disputes related with contaminated and off-spec bunkers are growing recently and this negative trend is expected to further emerge, due to the 2020 low-sulfur regulations. Most of these cases, which may result into multi-million damages, boil down to the taken samples and their analysis. As a result, the importance of following the proper sampling controls and documentations is also increasing. This interesting opinion was expressed by Rahul Choudhuri, Managing Director of Veritas Petroleum Services (VPS), an international fuel testing company.
According to VPS, Singapore already has one of the strictest codes of practice for bunkering (SS 600), however approximately 23% of the vessels bunkering in Singapore do not follow the required standards related with the sampling controls and documentations, data collected by VPS show. Taking this into account, it is expected that this non-compliance ratio will be much higher in other bunkering ports where the regulations are softer.
The most usual non-compliance issue is when the crew sends a fuel sample in a laboratory for testing and the seal sample number is different than the one mentioned in the BDN. In such case, if the result of the analysis is negative, the bunker suppliers may say that they do not recognise the relevant sample since it is not mentioned in the BDN and therefore they do not accept any responsibility for bad bunkers arising under the results of this particular sample.
The managing director of VPS notes that in case of such a non-compliance, chances for Shipowners to lose the dispute are high, since they will not be able to file a claim based on a sample which is not mentioned in the BDN.
Other issues of non-compliance with the sampling standards are related with taking fuel samples from wrong locations or with taking samples by using a wrong methodology. According to VPS, situation can be improved with the appointment of a bunker surveyor who will be able to clarify any issues related with sampling requirements and will help the crew to take proper samples.
Since contaminated bunkers are expected to rise due to IMO 2020, as Choudhuri forecasts, following proper bunker sampling and documentation controls is the key which will enable ship operators to perform proper analysis of the blended fuel. This will add value in cases of dispute resolution, saving ship operators from the potential damages caused by off-spec or contaminated bunkers.