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Bunkering Challenges 2021 Highlights Experiences and Costs with VLSFO

low sulfur fuel experience
(file photo)

Published May 13, 2021 4:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

Leading up to the introduction of the low sulfur regulations and after the implementation of the rules, there was extensive discussion on issues ranging from fuel quality to the potential costs and implications for ship operations. There have been a few studies citing quality issues and widely reported incidents where operators blamed operational issues on fuel quality.

A recent webinar organized by the trade association management company Maritime AMC entitled Bunkering Challenges 2021, brought together executives from different parts of the industry to discuss their experiences with VLSFO since the introduction of the sulfur regulations. 

There was a belief expressed that the rules resulted in a significant increase in operating expenditure for ship managers, with the use of low and very low sulfur fuel potentially resulting in system and engine damage. Some expressed the belief that while there had been some quality issues and inconsistencies in VLSFO early in the adoption process, that those issues have largely stabilized and the quality returned to fuel supplies. Most agreed that there is an increased need for training and monitoring with the adoption of VLSFO.

Experience with Operational Problems

“I would guesstimate that the extra cost for additional sampling, onboard test kits, increased purifier maintenance, supply and installation of cermet piston rings, treatment chemicals, additional filtration equipment is in the region of between US$10,000 and $20,000 per ship per annum,” said Sacha Cornell, Fleet Manager, Norbulk Shipping.

Cornell told the audience that he believed there were numerous cases in which very low sulfur fuel delivered onboard contains undesirable substances, resulting in problems relating to fuel stability, storage, handling treatment, and processing onboard. Anecdotally he told one story about a vessel receiving a batch of very low sulfur fuel in Rotterdam. Ship and barge samples were taken and analyzed he said with the fuel recording a total sediment reading well within the ISO parameters. But after 24 hours of use, the ship’s purifier and fuel system were blocked, requiring engineers to carry out repetitive cleaning of purifiers and sludge discharge piping every 24 hours.

“Until the vessel had consumed all the bunkers, the crew had no option but to handle the problem onboard which is not a good situation for any engineer or shipowner to be in, especially when you are unable to make a claim against bunker supplier,” Cornell said. In this case, he said enhanced testing of the suspect bunker could not identify the cause of operational problems meaning that no basis could be established for a claim against the supplier.

Fuel Quality Back to Normal

Kjeld Aabo, Director New Technologies, MAN Energy Solutions and Chairman CIMAC Sub-Group WG 7 F – Fuel, spoke to the issues of fuel quality acknowledging a problem with very low sulfur fuel in early 2020. Aabo, however, contended that quality has returned to normal. “In the beginning of 2020, we saw quite an increase in cylinder liner scuffing and excessive wear is, of course, not acceptable. By August, we were back to normal,” he said, emphasizing the importance of having ceramic coated piston rings to better control wear on the liner surface.

Aabo recalled one instance where 2000ppm was found in one sample, “but CIMAC and ISO say it is not a big problem today. Ship operators are now used to the procedures and know-how to better use the lube oil and the low sulfur fuel.”

Need for Training and Sampling

Bunker training and sampling procedures were recurrent themes throughout the presentations.

“Crew training is vitally important,” said Cornell. “When you talk to some crews about the importance of the sampling process, and how to make sure that the sampling is done well, and is a true representative sample, I find, unfortunately, a lot of times they're not fully aware of the implications if they do not get it right. There should be more education in this area.”

Bunker consultant Neil Lamerton agreed: “Often the crew onboard have no idea of the value of bunkers. Obviously, engineers are very good at using the fuel. But I think some owners and managers can do better at educating them on the commercial aspects of what they're actually doing. They need to know what it means financially to the company if it all goes wrong, not just the technical, operational aspect.”

In summing up, conference chair, Maritime AMC Director and bunker expert Ian Adams, said: “It is vitally important we continue to train our crews and office staff on how to properly and safely bunker fuel in a post-IMO2020 environment.”

A recording of the Bunkering Challenges 2021 webinar is available online.