BIMCO Survey Reveals Widespread Problems With New Low-Sulfur Fuels

Singapore freight forwarders – Star Concord

A new survey conducted by BIMCO shows that many shipowners (but not all) are experiencing serious problems with new very low sulfur fuel formulations. 

Bunker suppliers have formulated new blend proportions and feedstocks in order to create fuel mixtures that comply with the IMO’s new 0.5 percent sulfur limit, which took effect January 1. Between February and May, the shipping associations BIMCO, Intercargo and Intertanko sent out a survey about the quality of these new VLSFO blends to shoreside technical staff at all of their member companies. 

The issues that the respondents highlighted were significant. Fully 86 percent reported some amount of experience with off-spec or poorly-performing fuel. Nearly two-thirds reported experience with sludge formation, a challenging problem that can clog fuel lines and filters, and a third reported problems with wax formation. About 20 percent reported that they had encountered fuel so problematic that it had to be de-bunkered.

Nearly one-third reported increased wear in engine components, and 18 percent reported fuel pump seizures. 10 percent reported blackouts or propulsion failures related to fuel oil properties.

In narrative responses, these technical staffers and managers reported a range of problems related to the new fuels – particularly sludge formation, the most commonly reported issue. Plugged-up purifiers, purifier sludge discharge lines, fuel racks and fuel filters were a common theme, often requiring frequent disassembly and cleaning to maintain operations. One operator reported purifier clogging every two to three hours, and another reported that one of their vessels was forced to reduce speed due to purifier problems. Wide variations in pour point, density and viscosity also drew concern, especially since these factors also impact purifier performance. 

“1200 man-hours [have been spent] by vessel crews on handling problematic fuels. The additional onboard workload affected the vessels’ normal maintenance time-schedule,” one respondent wrote. 

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