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The International Bunker Industry Association says it will develop a proposal to form a working group formed of key fuel oil testing specialists to address the current issue and potential solutions, including the development of a globally consistent method and protocol.

As previously reported, over 100 vessels are understood to have experienced operational problems after taking on residual fuel at US Gulf ports, including Houston.

In its own update on the situation, IBIA notes that: ‘The industry continues to face serious issues and there is a range of opinions regarding: the root cause(s) of the problem; the parties who should be held accountable; recommended action for each of the key participants in the supply chain; and, potential changes to current operational procedures and standards.

‘Presently, there is no consensus and not all stakeholders are willing to publicly share their findings and views. It’s a controversial topic and there is plenty of heated debate.’

The IBIA statement points out that it is not clear that all the reported cases share the same root cause and not all the fuel testing agencies involved in the testing of samples from the vessels affected are offering the same view as to the root cause.

The association also describes as ‘speculation’ a common view that the contaminated fuels may have been introduced into the supply chain via inappropriate cutter stocks used in the production of bunker fuel at one or more refineries and/or terminals.

As IBIA explains: ‘In similar cases in the past, the source of the contaminant was never adequately identified, but in summary, the root cause was by and large a lack of control of the quality of cutter stock used in the marine pool. There is also the possibility that the problems stem from cross-contamination due to a new product cargo being loaded into multi-purpose storage tanks that were not sufficiently emptied and cleared.

‘Another view is that the cases are not all related and that where only sludge formation has been reported, it could have been caused by incompatibility between a new product and existing residues remaining in tanks.’

While all the tested samples met the ISO 8217 specification, further tests have indicated that it seems likely that the problem fuels from the US Gulf contravene Clause 5 in ISO 8217 and Regulation 18.3 of MARPOL Annex VI which broadly state that fuels shall not contain any material in a concentration that adversely affects the performance of machinery.

Another issue is that the methodology for the application of such forensic levels of testing varies from one laboratory to the next which means that the results cannot always be compared and there may be questions around the reliability of the results.

IBIA highlights that: ‘The closest we are to a standard method is ASTM D7845 -17, which has been developed to quantify chemical species at low levels in marine fuel oils and cutter stocks by multidimensional GCMS, but it has limitations.’

The association acknowledges that: ‘There will be some who believe that this issue is best to the likes of ISO, ASTM or CIMAC and/or the testing companies.’ However, it intends to press ahead with the proposal to develop a fuel testing working group to address the questions generated by the recent US Gulf fuel quality problems.

‘Although we cannot yet propose a generic solution we feel that the proposed IBIA working group has the potential to make a meaningful contribution when it comes to improving the situation,’ says IBIA.

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