During 2018 there was a considerable increase in cases with off-spec or contaminated bunkers delivered in various ports globally. Since it is expected that there will be further bunker quality disputes due to increased blending in order to produce IMO 2020 compliant fuels, Skuld has published an opinion with the scope to notify the shipping community about the importance to follow a proper sampling and fuel testing regime.
Skuld explains the importance of the fuel samples to be tested in laboratories since the samples tested onboard, with the use of hand-held equipment, usually result into limited findings and may not trace some of the issues detected in recent cases.
For such a laboratory analysis to take place, the proper sampling procedure has the same importance as the analysis itself. Skuld explains that the contract between the parties should describe which samples to be used for analysis and should outline the process to be followed for their collection. In this regards, common contractual terms, such as the BIMCO Bunker Terms 2018 and the BIMCO Bunker Quality Control Clause for Time Chartering, should be used. According to those terms the samples should be taken from vessel’s bunkering manifold in accordance with the IMO Resolution MEPC.182(59) Guidelines for the Sampling of Fuel Oil.
The MEPC.182(59) Guidelines provide details such as (a) where the samples should be taken from, (b) how they should be handled (c) how the bottles should be sealed and labeled and (d) how they should be stored. The parties should always consult and follow MEPC.182(59), Skuld explains, and they should pay special attention to seal and label the bottles properly. Furthermore, the BDN should enlist the correct seal numbers of the samples taken.
According to these standard clauses, in case that a quality claim comes up, the samples should be analysed by a mutually agreed, qualified and independent laboratory whose findings will be binding for all parties concerned.
Further to this, the contract should stipulate a specific testing laboratory, otherwise the parties should mutually agree on a qualified and independent laboratory capable of performing the relevant analysis. Furthermore, to avoid any future disputes, the parties should agree on the testing protocol in advance, while it is highly recommended all the samples to be tested from the same laboratory in order to ensure consistency in the methodology and procedure used. The results of such a detailed analysis will show whether the fuel was on-spec as per the specification agreed in the contract and whether it was suitable for use as marine bunker fuel.
Further to all this, Skuld ends up suggesting that in an effort to overcome all the pitfalls related with fuel analysis, the parties should agree in advance and clearly incorporate in the charterparty or bunker supply contract all issues around sampling and testing procedures.