REPORTS that 100 vessels have been hit by
contaminated fuel oil in Houston and other US Gulf ports, has spawned
costly and complex problems, say BIMCO lawyers from the London law firm Holman Fenwick Willan (HFW).
Affected ships reported blocked fuel
filters, fuel pump seizures and complete loss of power, risking
collisions and groundings, say HFW lawyers Paul Dean and Rory Grout.
"Contaminated supplies of blended fuel oils, such as IFO 380, were first
reported in the US Gulf region in February, the lawyers wrote in
London's Tanker Operator.
"Whilst the root source remained inconclusive, gas chromatography mass
spectrometry testing seemed to point to adhesive phenolic compounds as
the principal contaminant," they said.
"The issue appears to have been compounded due to the lack of detection
of contaminants via conventional fuel testing analysis performed in
accordance with ISO 8217 requirements and fuel specifications.
Suppliers speculate that the problem is linked to a refinery, or cutter
stocks that added lighter petroleum products to heavier fuel to reduce
viscosity, said the report.
The immediate question for shipowners will be how to deal with the contaminated fuel remaining on board and not yet burned.
"This will need to be assessed on a case by case basis and is likely to
require the input of a marine fuel specialists in conjunction with an
owner's P&I Club and legal advisors," said the lawyers.
Options may include the blending or filtration of the contaminated fuel,
or alternatively its complete discharge, as well as fuel tank and fuel
Discharge of the contaminated fuel, now designated as a chemical waste,
requires specialist handling and is not suitable or permitted for
onshore fuel storage facilities, they said.
"Although circumstantial evidence may point to fuel contamination,
owners will need to consider and preserve the evidence necessary to
prove that the cause of the problem is off-specification fuel oil and
not a ship related problem," said the HFW team.
"This will include retaining samples of the contaminated fuel, as well
as establishing that the relevant maintenance checks of their fuel
filtration and pumping system are up to date and in order via
"Evidence of previous bunker supplies, potentially going back over a
period of time, may also be required to rule out problems caused by
earlier stems," they said.