Fuel quality and safety was high on the agenda during the 100th session of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in early December. On the occasion, IUMI highlighted that biofuels are not properly catered for under the ISO standard 8217 and urged IMO to encourage ISO to embark on the urgent amendment of the ISO 8217 legislation to deal with biofuels and the 2020 sulphur cap.
MSC 100 agreed to include in its agenda for MSC 101 a new item on “Development of further measures to enhance the safety of ships relating to the use of fuel oil”. This followed the consideration of submissions concerning the potential need for guidance and advice concerning possible safety issues related to the implementation of the 2020 sulphur cap (outside ECAs).
However, Neil Roberts, Head of Marine Underwriting, Lloyd’s Market Association and member of the IUMI Policy Forum, noted that the contamination incident which occurred in the US Gulf ports over the summer highlighted that biofuels are not properly catered for under the ISO standard 8217.
They fall, at best, under the stipulation that fuels should be fit for purpose. Numbers vary, but at least 100 ships were affected by their supplied biodiesel fuel which contained added substances, namely fatty acid methyl esters or FAME. In many cases, this adversely affected the performance of the machinery.
In the case of cat fines, the fuel is known in advance to be unusable as supplied, whereas with biofuels, deficiencies only manifest in use, he explained. If fuels are unfit, in contravention to the requirements of MARPOL Annex 6, the validity of marine insurance cover may be called into question where ships are rendered unseaworthy.
IUMI believes that the current system of leaving the testing or damage to the end user is outdated. This approach has become unacceptable and must be changed. The motor and aviation sectors are positive examples of how the supply system works more effectively. Governments have agreed to compel the use of certain grades of fuel for ships; they should now equally recognise it is time to oblige the refineries to do the testing – not the end user. Traditionally, refiners have argued this can be done but will be more expensive. That rather old defence should be balanced against the cost of filtration systems and scrubbers across the world fleet, the cost of engine repairs, the increased risk of a consequent collision and pollution and by no means least, the cost of delay in deliveries.
There are potential third-party safety risks as the new blends of fuels have variable properties which are not standardised; they have different viscosity, flash points and pour points, meaning not only is performance unpredictable, they cannot be safely mixed with other new blends of fuels. The inevitable result will be more claims as a result of combustion problems.
If no remedial action is taken, there will be continued and growing expense, anticipated to be worse than the wave of cat fines claims after the SOx regulations of 2005. There could also be ensuing disruption to financial and social stability in a globally connected trade system where any delay has potentially significant consequences. As insurance will not automatically pay for the resultant damage, the cost will inevitably be passed via the owners and charterers to the voting consumer. IUMI would hope that IMO will encourage ISO to embark on the urgent amendment of the ISO 8217 to deal with biofuels and indeed the 2020 sulphur cap.