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U.S. Coast Guard issues bunker safety alert

13 Jun 2018

Recent off-spec bunker fuel cases at Houston have caught the attention of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) which has also issued an internal Marine Safety Alert titled: We’ve all experienced bad gas, but how about IFO 380?

“This safety alert raises awareness of a significant emerging problem in the U.S. Gulf Coast region regarding contaminated vessel fuel oil bunkers,” it says.

“This involves blended fuels oil such as Intermediate Fuel Oil (IFO 380) and has caused fouled fuel pump plungers, fuel pump seizures and other fuel system related failures.

“Furthermore, the fuel may increase sediment levels at separators and fuel filters and, in some cases, may completely clog filters. The standard fuel oil test methods found in the ISO 8217 specification will not detect these underlying problems.”

USCG referred to earlier discoveries made by fuel testing labs which found that phenolic compounds and long chain fatty acids present in the off-spec fuel.

The contaminant was identified as phenolic compound 4-Cumyl-Phenol (CAS No. 599-64-4) and all fuel oil samples were found to be in the concentration range of 300ppm to 1,000ppm.

4-CumylPhenol has many industrial applications due to its adhesive qualities including the manufacture of epoxy resins as well as is used as an emulsifier in pesticides.

Sampling and analysis has determined this contamination is not limited to one fuel supplier but exists across many.

“No definitive source has been identified but it’s presumed to be associated with the use of fuel oil cutter stocks,” it says.

“Cutter stocks are generally lighter petroleum products that are added to heavy fuel to reduce its viscosity.

“This fuel oil contamination could lead to engine failures and associated losses of propulsion potentially having catastrophic and wide ranging consequences.”

Moving forward, USCG recommends vessel owners and managers to ensure vessel operators are made aware of the potential hazardous condition, closely monitor fuel oil system components and consult their bunker suppliers and other technical service providers regarding the issue.

Specifically, it advises vessel owners and operators to:

  • Pay attention to the terms of the bunker requisition.
  • Specify that the fuel must be absent of abnormal components.
  • Determine the acid number of the fuel.
  • Carefully pay attention to the fuel supply and fuel injection equipment onboard the vessel.

Related: UK P&I Club: Off-spec bunker issues extend to Panama
Related: FOBAS: Update for marine fuel issues at Galveston area
Related: FOBAS: Fuel Problems in the Galveston Area

Published: 13 June, 2018

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