VPS’ Steve Bee discusses the challenges the industry is facing as a result of IMO’s new regulations on sulphur content in marine fuels
At a recent Riviera Maritime Media webinar on two-stroke engines and very low-sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO), Veritas Petroleum Services’ (VPS) group commercial & business development director Steve Bee explained that his company had tested nearly 5,000 fuel samples of VLSFO before the onset of the sulphur cap limits. He noted that there has been a rapid adoption of new VLSFO fuel blends, although the speed has slowed because of disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Bee said the tests revealed issues with VLSFOs including asphaltene sludging and residual compounds or waxing due to cold-flow issues from paraffinic content. VPS also noted a “huge variation in the densities” of VLSFOs which range from the upper end of 800 to 1000 Kg/m3 depending on the blends used.
Speaking about the quality of VLSFO bunker fuel in the early months of 2020, Mr Bee said buyers should be familiar with the fuel blends they are buying and ensure they procure certificates of quality which he said have become more important due to the degree of variation among VLSFOs.
Issues related to sediments in VLSFOs were seen in the industry in the lead up to the sulphur cap, as Mr Bee noted. Between 24 December 2019 and 21 January 2020 VPS issued seven bunker alerts showing sediment problems within VLSFOs supplied in Singapore, Piraeus, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Miami and San Vincente.
At the time, Mr Bee said: “I’ve never known such a concentrated frequency of bunker alerts to be issued in relation to a single fuel quality problem as we have seen with sediment problems in VLSFOs over the past four weeks.”
While the average total sediment potential (TSP) value has been on-spec in early 2020, there have been unusually high peaks observed in Houston, Panama, Singapore, Antwerp and Hong Kong. However, Mr Bee said that both VLSFO adoption and compliance continues to rise.
“Buyers should be familiar with the fuel blends they are buying and ensure they procure certificates of quality”
VPS’ data on compliance indicated high average levels of compliance with IMO regulations in all regions, globally, for VLSFOs. VLSFO non-compliance had dropped to 2.3% of all samples tested by the end of Q1, he said. In Q1 2020, 63% of fuel samples tested by VPS were VLSFOs while the corresponding figure for HSFOs was 14%.
The corresponding figures at the end of 2019 showed an 8% non-compliance rate. Newly released compliance data from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) for Q1 2020 confirmed that 96% of ships calling at the Port were found to be compliant with the new regulations.
VPS data indicates that only 3% of the samples tested exceed the off-spec parameter. While VLSFO cat fines are higher than HFOs, Mr Bee said cat fines are improving in all bunkering regions and by the end of Q1 only 0.3% of tested samples were higher than 60ppm.
On VLSFO storage, Mr Bee said the fuel blends are less stable than most traditional marine fuels and require close monitoring. He highlighted fuel and lube management as key to ensuring optimal performance and preventing problems and said that the industry is still on a learning curve when it came to best practices with the fuels.
Since April, VPS has extended accessibility of its bunker alerts to BIMCO members who will now be permitted to access the information on BIMCO’s website.
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