Fears of a Growing Problem from Contaminated HSFO Fuel in Singapore

contaminated fuel in Singapore causing power failures
Samples of HFSO from Singapore are showing chlorinatated compounds believed to causing power failures (file photo)

Published Apr 1, 2022 2:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

More than a dozen ships have reported power problems and blackouts after fueling in Singapore in recent weeks with fears that the problem may affect an increasing number of vessels. Fuel testing and inspection laboratory Veritas Petroleum Services issued an alert yesterday saying that it believes the problem is traced to chlorinated hydrocarbons being found in deliveries from two suppliers in the world’s largest bunker market.

VPS’s alert is the second warning to come in recent days about a potential fuel problem in the Singapore market. While saying that they did not believe it reflected the overall quality of fuel being supplied in Singapore, Lloyd’s Register FOBAS also issued an alert this week that it had found random samples of fuel contaminated with chlorinated compounds. They advised to observe sampling methods and speak with fuel suppliers while also warning that the contaminates can not be detected by standard ISO testing. “The Singapore MPA is aware of these specific instances and is also investigating the cause,” Lloyd’s reported.

VPS says that 14 vessels suffered problems with some of them having to be towed to port. The report identified 34 vessels that received HSFO deliveries from the two suppliers while writing in their alert, “The problems appear to be continuing to affect an increasing number of vessels.” The alert warns of the potential for costly damages and repairs as well as voyage delays and time-consuming claims.

They report that vessels are experiencing fuel system failures in their auxiliary engine which have resulted in a loss of power and propulsion creating a blackout. The fuel system failures are resulting from the seizure of the fuel pumps and plunger as well as barrel corrosion, all caused by the fuel contamination. 

VPS first warned of a potential issue on March 11 in an alert to fuel customers and since then they reported conducting testing that shows contamination with up to 2,000 ppm of chlorinated hydrocarbons. They noted that “the HSFO fuel actually met the ISO8217 specifications upon each delivery.”

“The cause of this recent Singapore fuel quality issue is due to different chemical contaminants to what VPS identified in 2018,” they write referring to a similar fuel contamination issue that caused problems in Houston. “However, the number of cases identified at this time in Singapore is at a higher level over the first six weeks compared to the number identified in Huston over a similar time period.”

Earlier this week, another fuel testing organization, Maritec, also warned of a potential issue in the Singapore fuel supply. While not causing blackouts they warned of safety concerns after several samples of VLSFO deliveries in Singapore showed flashpoints as low as 53°C versus the SOLAS regulation that says “no oil fuel with a flashpoint of less than 60°C shall be used.” They warn vessels that might have received the fuel to take extra safety precautions because of the danger of fire and to repeat samples especially if fuel was co-mingled in bunker tanks.