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The Lab: Why bunker fuel oil analysis is more important than ever

Bunkers which are compliant with ISO 8217, may in fact contain contaminants, which can result in significant operational difficulties, including engine damage.





The Lab, the independent laboratory facility opened by leading multi-disciplinary technical and scientific consultancy Brookes Bell, on Tuesday (9 August) released an article elaborating the greater importance of bunker fuel analysis today following a surge in bunker fuel quality issues in recent months: 

With rising fuel costs, supply chain disruptions resulting from the war in Ukraine, and the entry onto the market of sanction-breaking oil, fuel quality issues are becoming an increasing concern for vessel owners and operators. It’s an issue we’ve seen firsthand here at The Lab. As a result, bunker fuel oil analysis is becoming more important than ever.

The rise of bunker fuel oil quality issues 

It’s difficult to discern one specific reason as to why there has been a surge in bunker fuel quality issues in recent months. Certainly, the current geopolitical issues, supply chain disruptions and impacts on oil and gas producers detailed at the outset of this article won’t be helping matters.

One potential reason for the rise in bunker fuel oil quality issues could be the use of cheaper, possibly sub-standard blending components which render bunker fuel off-specification. We’ve also seen instances where insufficient clarity concerning the clauses of ISO 8217, which leads to confusion as to what levels of contaminants are ‘acceptable’.

The point is that, no matter how bunker fuel quality issues arise, the fact is that they are arising - and vessel owners and operators should be aware and prepared.

Bunker alerts

When these contaminated bunkers are identified, a bunker alert is issued by VPS - who continually monitor global fuel quality and fuel oil trends in various ports around the world.

It’s these bunker alerts which prove there has been a noticeable surge of contaminated bunkers onto the world market - with 60% more bunker alerts issued this year compared to last (note - VPS will issue a bunker alert when they have identified an off-spec parameter for three vessels within one week for the same port). 

Of the bunker alerts issued by VPS in 2022, these have covered eight different ports for nine different parameters. 

Some of these bunker alerts have been related to sizable incidents. Arguably the largest occurred in Singapore in March of this year, where chemically-contaminated bunker HSFO fuel was delivered to over 200 vessels. 

According to reports, this resulted in major operational problems for 80 vessels - which has resulted in ongoing litigation over claims for compensation.

Bunker testing and specifications

What’s perhaps most shocking about the large-scale bunker contamination outlined above, is the point that Singapore - as the world’s largest bunkering port - has rigid sample testing procedures, governed by the Singapore Code of Practice for Bunkering (SS 600).

What’s more, these testing procedures were developed by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and the Technical Committee for Bunkering under the purview of the Singapore Chemical Industry Council.

According to reports, the contamination has its roots in ‘Estonian type oil shale’ and ‘US type fracked shale oil’, with the principal contaminants being styrene and phenol.

Even more concerning, the off-spec, contaminated bunkers were not detected by the ISO 8217 testing requirements. 

This is a crucially important point for vessel owners, operators and charterers to absorb - even bunkers which are compliant with ISO 8217, may in fact contain contaminants, which can result in significant operational difficulties, including engine and other component damage.

A note on biofuels

Contaminants from poor cutter stocks or bad (or deliberate) blending practices aren’t the only thing vessel owners need to worry about. 

With an increasing volume of biofuels making their way onto the open market we are seeing a rise in cases of microbial contamination - this is because the fatty acid methyl esters in biofuels are hygroscopic, meaning they attract and absorb moisture.

Should your vessels be using biofuels then, it’s vital that the fuel system is kept as clean and dry as possible.

The consequences of bunker contamination

It’s important not to understate the potential negative consequences of taking on off-spec bunker fuel. Although it can be possible to burn off contaminated fuel, this isn’t always possible depending on the level and type of contamination.

In the worst case scenarios, taking on off-spec bunker fuel can result in asset damage, such as piston ring failure, cylinder liner damage, the deterioration of rubber seals, the accretion of solids on cylinder heads, the failure of gaskets and more. All of which can result in significant costs to remediate.

Damage to critical components can also lead to severe secondary consequences such as loss of propulsion, placing both the ship and crew at risk. This can impact on the safety of other vessels which may be navigating nearby, risking collisions and even groundings.

As you can see, what may seem like a single incident can quickly compound into several more.

It pays to take bunker contamination seriously.

What’s the solution? 

If vessel operators must treat ISO 8217 with caution, what then is the solution? 

Whilst there is talk of overhauling ISO 8217 to bring about stricter testing to identify contaminants before they pass a vessel’s manifold, as well as discussions concerning a bunker supplier licensing scheme - vessel owners and operators are advised not to wait for these developments. 

Instead, prevention should be the order of the day.

Here at The Lab we strongly recommend a proactive approach to fuel management and testing. 

We can carry out the full range of ISO 8217 Table 2 testing, supplemented by gas chromatography - mass spectrometry analysis (GC-MS), fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), cleanliness and compatibility testing, and more.


Photo credit: The Lab at Brookes Bell
Published: 16 August, 2022

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Poland: ORLEN to strengthen position in bunker fuels sector with new oil terminal

With the terminal’s commissioning, the company plans to introduce a bunkering vessel to service the Tri-City ports with conventional marine fuels and biofuels.





ORLEN oil terminals

Polish multinational oil refiner ORLEN Group on Wednesday (12 June) said it is solidifying its presence in the marine fuels market with the construction of a new oil terminal that is scheduled for completion by the second half of 2025.

Construction of the Martwa Wisła terminal, located on the Martwa Wisła river, has already exceeded 70%.

The Martwa Wisła terminal will enhance the logistics capabilities of the Gdańsk refinery, allowing for the transshipment of approximately 2 million tonnes of fuel products annually.

The first four loading arms have already arrived at the construction site and the remaining four loading arms are slated for delivery by the end of June. The devices, with a throughput capacity of up to 500m³/h, will be used at transshipment points to load tankers.

With the terminal's commissioning, the company plans to introduce a bunkering vessel to service the Tri-City ports (Gdańsk, Gdynia, Sopot) with conventional fuels and biofuels.

For over 20 years, the Group has been supplying quality marine fuels to all Polish seaports. Its refinery product portfolio encompasses a wide range of fuels that guarantee quality and strict compliance with regulations, including MGO (DMA 0.1%S), ULSFO (RMD80 0.1% S) and LNG, which will in the near future be complemented with ‘green’ alternatives.

All marine fuels offered by ORLEN comply with the international ISO 8217:2017 standard and meet the requirements of the MARPOL Convention.


Photo credit: ORLEN Group
Published: 14 June 2024

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Australia: Crew of bunker tanker “Champion 63” to strike following employer’s refusal to negotiate

‘BP has decided they can’t pay industry standards in Brisbane and want to keep their workers’ wages low,’ states MUA spokesman.





Champion 63

The crew of Champion 63, a 2022-built Australia-registered bunker tanker with home port of Brisbane, is set to go on strike after bargaining for a new enterprise agreement has stalled, stated the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) on Wednesday (12 June).

Members of the Australian Maritime Officers Union, the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers, and MUA voted up protected industrial action on 11 June 2024.

The crews have been trying to formalise their employment conditions with ASP Ship Management since the bunkering operations commenced in February 2023. It took ASP approximately six months to issue the Notice of Employee Representational Rights (NERR) and start bargaining.

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“The crew of the new bunker barge on the Brisbane River and the maritime unions bent over backwards to make this vessel work,” said MUA Assistant Branch Secretary Paul Gallagher.

“Including low wages, excessive hours and a roster that does not allow crew to take leave. 18 months down the track when it comes time for BP to reward their crew and pay industry standards what do they do? They deny them fair wages, a workable roster and threaten their back pay!”

The AMOU filed a bargaining dispute after ASP refused to take their claim for a roster that does not demand that crews work every weekend seriously.

“Having to work every weekend because ASP does not have suitable relief arrangements is unacceptable,” said AMOU Industrial Officer Tracey Ellis.

“Crews have a right to be rostered time off to spend with their family. Waiting for ASP to fix the issue did not work, filing a Bargaining Dispute in the Fair Work Commission did not work, so the crews will take protected industrial action until their concerns are taken seriously.”

The crews onboard the Champion 63 voted up an unlimited number of stoppages of work of between one hour and 48 hours.

Gallagher added that, “the Maritime unions will not tolerate the big multinational fuel barons of this world undermining the Australian maritime wages and conditions of seven local mariners who are trying their best to support our own local shipping and Cruise Ship industry. If your cruise holiday gets delayed it is because, after recording over $40 billion profit in last two years, BP has decided they can’t pay industry standards in Brisbane and want to keep their workers’ wages low.”


Photo credit: Maritime Union of Australia
Published: 13 June 2024


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Infineum releases Sustainability Report 2023 outlining its sustainability progress

Infineum celebrates 25 years of operations and looks forward to the next 25 years of progress towards its net zero ambition by 2050, says CEO.





Press release Infineum remains focused on our purpose to become a sustainable world class specialty chemicals company

Infineum, a specialty chemicals company headquartered in the UK, on Thursday (13 June) released its fourth annual Sustainability Report, reinforcing its purpose to create a sustainable future through innovative chemistry.

Aligned with the company’s strategic plan to achieve its vision and purpose, Infineum announces:

Publication of its Sustainability Report 2023 (, which outlines the efforts and progress that the company has achieved through the year, including:

  • Championing of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) throughout the organisation
  • Achievement of 28% of colleagues volunteering, surpassing its 2025 target of 25%
  • Increased share of relevant supplier spends covered by sustainability assessments to 62%

Launch of revamped corporate website ( to better represent Infineum as a specialty chemicals company, showcasing Infineum’s existing capabilities, as well as diversification in the new markets

The joint venture, formed in 1999 between Shell and Exxon Mobil, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and recently shared its restructure strategy to two business units, Sustainable Transportation and Energy Applications.

“As Infineum celebrates 25 years of operations and we look forward to the next 25 years of progress towards our net zero ambition by 2050, I am pleased to share our fourth annual sustainability report,” says Infineum CEO Aldo Govi.

“This is a journey and we have made excellent progress, but improvement will not always be linear, especially when set against the backdrop of a challenging external environment, but our purpose of creating a sustainable future through innovative chemistry, continues to drive us forward.

“We remain focused on our vision to become a sustainable world-class specialty chemicals company. Sustainability was at the core of reshaping Infineum to better enable us to contribute to sustainable mobility and the transition to a low-carbon economy.”


Photo credit: Infineum
Published: 13 June 2024

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