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Very low sulphur fuel oils (VLSFO) accounted for 49% of samples tested by Bureau Veritas VeriFuel in the first quarter of 2020, with the percentage of VLSFOs meeting the 0.50% sulphur limit growing from just under 89% in January to over 95% in March.

According to the new Q1 statistics compiled by VeriFuel and shared with Bunkerspot, while VLSFOs accounted for almost 50% of samples tested, low sulphur marine gasoil (LSMGO) accounted for 38%, high sulphur fuel oil (HSFO), 8%, ultra-low sulphur fuel oil, 4% and high sulphur marine gasoil (HSMGO) just 1%.

In terms of viscosity (@50oC) across the first quarter, VLSFO averaged 108.2, HSFO was 303 and ULSFO was 36.8. In the run-up to 2020, VeriFuel had seen average VLSFO viscosity at around 118.

Looking at the percentage of off-spec fuels tested across the first three months of the year, MGO was the highest at 3.5%, followed by VLSFO at 3.1%. ULSFO came in at 2.3% and HSFO was 1.8%.

Drilling down further into VLSFO specifications in January-March, there has been a marked improvement in the number of samples that met the 0.50% sulphur limit, from just under 89% in January to just over 93% in February and 95% in March. Out of spec VLSFOs accounted for 4% of the total samples for this grade in January, dropping to just under 3% for February and March respectively.

As the percentage of VLSFOs that are within the 0.50% sulphur limit grew, the percentage of samples that met the 95% confidence level has fallen: from 7% in January, to 3.5% in February and just 2% in March. In the run-up to the introduction of IMO 2020, many fuel experts predicted that quite a number of VLSFO would be off-spec, because suppliers would be blending so tightly to the 0.50% limit. VeriFuel’s new statistics would indicate that blenders are becoming more used to producing VLSFOs that are close to, but do not exceed the sulphur limit.

At the Middle East Bunkering Convention in Dubai in February, Gunnar Kjeldsen, Global Business Development Manager, Marine Fuel Services at Bureau Veritas, told delegates that in the run up to 1 January 2020, VLSFOs had been shown to have wide range of viscosities - from 2 to 400 (@50oC).

In its latest quarterly survey, looking at fuel samples taken across 15 key global ports, the viscosity range is wide but the high numbers have come down slightly: the maximum viscosity was seen at Antwerp (372), followed by Algeciras (367). In terms of the quarterly average for VLSFO viscosity, Santos is the lowest at 19, and then there is quite a jump to 61 in Rotterdam, 74 in Houston, 98 in Singapore, 135 in Gibraltar, and 143 in Fujairah. Algeciras tops the list at an average of 205.

There is also considerable variation in the incidence of off-spec VLSFO fuel samples seen across the 15 ports. Antwerp shows the highest percentage of off-spec VLSFO across the first three months, at 13% and these were as a result of not meeting sulphur and sediment content parameters. Around 11% of VLSFOs tested at Busan were off-spec (due to calculated carbon aromaticity index (CCAI) issues), while 8% of VLSFOs at Rotterdam were out of spec (sediment) and 6% at Houston (sodium). Just 1% of VLSFO samples at Singapore were off-spec, due to water content.

Key Mediterranean ports showed a clean bill of health, with no Q1 off-spec fuel samples seen at Algeciras, Gibraltar or Las Palmas. VLSFOs tested at Santos also all met ISO 8217 specs.

In terms of VLSFO sulphur content, the statistics from some ports indicate that suppliers are blending right to the 0.50% sulphur limit. In Algeciras, Antwerp, Malta and Rotterdam, for example, average Q1 sulphur content in samples tested was 0.49%. Other ports averaged lower sulphur content: Houston (0.42%). Singapore and Fujairah (0.47%) and Busan (0.44%).

Average sulphur content across all the ports featuring in VeriFuels’ Q1 fuel quality report remained constant across January to March, at 0.46%


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