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July 2010

News Letter - 11th July 2010

Further to our last newsletter the official figures for Posidonia 2010 have been published. The organisers claim they had 17,385 visitors from 76 nations. A record number of 1,858 exhibitors from 87 countries and territories participated in Posidonia 2010 across an area of 31,000 square metres which also saw a record 21 national pavilions.


With effect from 1st July the sulphur levels of LSFO (low sulphur fuel oil) in the SECA’s (special emission control areas) was lowered from 1.5% to 1.0%. The reduction of sulphur levels does not stop there: there will be a further reduction to 0.1% sulphur by 1st January 2015. In addition vessels have had distillate fuels with sulphur contents not greater than 0.1% while alongside or at anchorages in EU ports since January 2010. Similarly the Californian CARB regulations that came into force on 1st July 2009 limit the fuel used while a vessel is alongside and within 24 NM of the Californian coast to a maximum of 1.5% sulphur if the vessel is using gas oil or 0.5% if diesel is the fuel.

These regulations mean that many vessels have now to carry three different grades of fuel onboard for the main engine, boilers and auxiliary engines. This is not the end of the reduction in sulphur content in fuel with EU ports looking at a sulphur level in the SECA areas of not more than 0.1% by 2015 and the Californian coast intending to reduce to 0.1% by 1st January 2012. If the vessel has a slow speed main engine then the vessel has to also carry and operate with two grades of cylinder oil and two grades of auxiliary engine lubricating oils. With this situation leading to regular changeovers between different grades of fuel and cylinder oils there are bound to be cases of cross contamination with the risk of the more pricy LSFO ending up exceeding the regulation limit. It does not take much cross contamination to exceed the regulation limit of low sulphur fuel since these fuels are produced in the first place close to the regulation limits. In the changeover process we are dealing with piping of 150 and 200mm diameter on large vessels and the content of even a ‘dead leg’ of piping could be sufficient to send an expensive LSFO over the regulation sulphur limit. These changeovers will need to be thought-out very carefully and great control exercised to minimise the risk of exceeding the MARPOL regulations since it can lead to the vessel being fined and possibly having to debunker with all the attendant consequences.

Many vessels have the distillate fuel supply line cross connected through a section or several sections of HSFO line which, no matter how meticulously the draining is done prior to taking distillate bunkers, can result in the distillate fuel being contaminated to the extent that it exceeds the regulation sulphur limit. Distillate fuel with the aforementioned sulphur limits is usually an amber colour so even a slight contamination by HSFO or LSFO quickly discolours the distillate fuel; which will readily encourage enthusiastic port state inspectors to request a retest or even stop the vessels operation until the fuel is changed!!

In addition to having to deal with the strict sulphur limits of marine fuels, over the past two years the occurrence of the level of catalytic fines in both HSFO and LSFO being at unacceptable levels for burning in low speed engines has been ever increasing. While the cat fines levels usually meet the ISO limits for aluminium and silicon of 80ppm the actual levels are now frequently in the range of 30 to 60ppm. To bring these levels down to acceptable limits for use in main engines means a high demand for efficient operation of the onboard purifiers with the fuels occasionally requiring multiples passes through the purification equipment in order to get the cat fines level below 15ppm. The engineers have to be ever more vigilant of their fuel quality because fuel going to the engine with a cat fines content of 20ppm or more will rapidly result in a catastrophic failure of the main engine leading to very expensive repairs, liability to the charterers due to excessive delays, and major logistical problems to move very large spare parts by air freight all over the world. This situation will continue to result in ever increasing frequency of problems and expense since ever more “cutter stock” is used to further reduce the sulphur level of fuel, as it’s the cutter stock which is laden with cat fines. As the sulphur levels reduce the quantity of cat fines in the fuel will increase.

Evermore vigilance and care will be needed from the engineers onboard in these circumstances. Are the ships engineers receiving sufficient training in these matters in order to avoid a costly and serious mistake occurring? Are they receiving any training at all in these matters?


While the quantity of oil escaping per day from the damaged well has been reduced and continues to further reduce there apparently appears to be no way of completely stopping the pollution before the relief wells are completed. This may be August, although BP are quietly indicating they are a little ahead of schedule with one drilling only approx 600m away from the damaged well as of the end of June.  BP is now being extremely cautious about forecasts and the probability of success. They have to ‘hit’ the damaged well ‘spot on’ with directional drilling which is an extremely difficult and delicate operation. The bad weather season with the ever increasing likelihood of hurricanes occurring has now set in and this can disrupt drilling operations, damage oil retention booms and spread the pollution over greater areas and bring more oil and oil residues ashore. Like any company or organisation with a disaster to contend with they need to be left to focus their attention totally in overcoming their problems, get this damaged well capped and get an effective clean up operation in hand. Now is not the time to ‘finger point’’ and recriminate. It is a time to focus and concentrate in correcting matters. The investigations as to what went wrong and the recriminations on what went wrong and how it can avoided in future along with full compensation can be focussed on once the well has been ‘tamed’ and made safe. The last thing engineers need at present are politicians and especially the US President playing the blame game and distracting BP’s most talented people away from the most important tasks. Many politicians are in the blame games only to further their own political careers and give little thought to the effects of this disaster. BP may have made (and probably have made) serious mistakes – but that investigation should wait until the work of rectifying matters is either completed or at least well onto the way of being completed. The last thing the industry needs is more regulations. What they need are the present regulations to be followed and if necessary enforced. If regulations are not enforced then a government authority should take some of the ‘rap’ although that is highly unlikely!