Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Compliant Fuel Causes Problems as IMO Sulphur Cap Approaches but One Shipping Line Acts

New Partnership to Ensure Consistent Quantity and Quality of Bunker Stock
Shipping News Feature
NETHERLANDS – Shipping behemoth AP Moller - Maersk and an independent tank storage operator active in the heart of Rotterdam's bunker environment Royal Vopak, have announced a partnership which will see the two launch a 0.5% sulphur fuel bunkering facility at the Port of Rotterdam, ahead of the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) 2020 incoming global sulphur limit. Both operations have long and impressive histories, Maersk becoming the leading global container line and Vopak deriving its title from Van Ommeren and Pakhoed, two names very familiar to the shipping community.

With both organisations historically usually taking the right options this new joint initiative which will cater for circa 20% of Maersk global demand, will enable AP Moller - Maersk to deliver approximately 2.3 million tonnes of compliant fuel per year. As an anchor tenant in the modified facilities this agreement will enable Maersk, as well as any other interested third parties, to supply vessels trading with and inside Europe suitably compliant fuel. Niels Henrik Lindegaard, Head of Maersk Oil Trading, a division of AP Moller - Maersk, commented:

“We trust that this initiative will put to rest some of the concerns the industry has on fuel availability as well as secure our continued competitiveness in the market.”

Member States within the IMO say they recently recognised that there are still some reservations and challenges relating to fuel handling and compatibility, an understatement given that over 100 vessels developed ‘issues’ in the past couple of months after receiving bunker fuel incompatible with their engines when refuelling on the US Gulf Coast. Speculation initially was on whether these occurrences were triggered by cross-contamination of new product cargo in multi-purpose storage tanks that were not sufficiently emptied and cleaned, thus by the interaction of a new fuel with sludge deposits.

Current thinking is that the new fuels, whilst passing several criteria, simply did not contain the right blend of chemistry which ensures sufficient engine protection. The issues associated with problem fuels have been manifested in the form of sticking and seizures of fuel injection systems components (mainly pumps), blocked fuel filters, or both. In some cases these issues have been so severe as to cause a loss of main engine power. Whatever the reason there are several on-going legal actions after vessels suffered engine problems post bunkering and the International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA) says it wants to form a working group of key fuel oil testing specialists to investigate and suggest industry wide protocols and standards for compliant fuel.

Now this new partnership in the Netherlands aims to play a key role in providing Maersk with supply chain assurance looking at both quality and quantity of the compliant fuel. The facility, at Vopak Terminal Europoort at the Port of Rotterdam, should allow Maersk safely blending, storing and handling different fuel types to ensure full compliance with the 0.5% sulphur cap. Hari Dattatreya, Global Oil Director Royal Vopak, commented:

“We are very proud to serve AP Moller - Maersk with this dedicated 0.5% sulphur bunkering point in the heart of Rotterdam. With AP Moller - Maersk as an anchor customer, Vopak demonstrates the focus to position itself in the 0.5% sulphur fuels bunker market. We are dedicated to serve our customers to comply with the IMO 2020 regulations in the key global bunker hubs around the world."

The IBIA publishes a 'Best Practice' guide to bunker suppliers but it is clear that the situation of problems with new compliant fuels need solving immediately. The IBIA last month put out an appeal to its members to ask them for possible solutions. One hopes they are successful but clearly Maersk couldn’t wait around to find out.

Photo: Vopak has extensive facilities in the Port of Rotterdam.