27 july 2018
Singapore-based ship survey and lab testing firm Maritec has warned its customers of the presence of contaminated fuel oil at the world’s biggest bunkering port.
According to the company, six samples of marine fuel oil recently sold in Singapore “resulted in severe sludging of centrifuges, clogged pipelines and overwhelmed fuel filters.” Since Singapore is a loading point for bunkers shipped elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the contaminated fuel could also be present at other ports, Maritec warned.
A bunkers trader in Singapore told Reuters that the tainted fuel contained styrene and phenols – petrochemical products that are not normally found in elevated levels in fuel oil, and are not part of the normal testing and specification requirements for bunkers. “The problem fuel fully met the ISO8217:2005 specifications in all respects but was found to contain chemicals not from petroleum refining,” Maritec said. Styrene is a precursor for polystyrene plastic, and phenols are a common class of compounds used to produce plastics, epoxies, herbicides and other products.
Earlier this year, similar incidents of fuel contamination were reported on the U.S. Gulf Coast. In that outbreak, which affected as many as 100 vessels, phenolic adhesive compounds were determined to be the main contaminant. Vessels reported blocked filters, seized fuel pumps and (in some cases) loss of propulsion, resulting in delays for repairs. In many cases, complete discharge of the contaminated fuel and cleaning of the tank and fuel system was the best option, according to law firm HFW. The contaminants were not detected by normal testing methods as specified under ISO 8217, and additional lab work was needed to determine the compounds.
According to HFW, industry speculation has pointed to a refinery or to the supply of a “cutter stock” – a lighter petroleum product that is added to heavy fuel in order to thin it – but the exact source of the contamination has not been determined.