2017 a ‘worst case scenario’ for fuel quality

Fuel quality issues are on the rise as the industry approaches the 2020 sulphur cap, according to Veritas Petroleum Services (photo: VPS) Fuel quality issues are on the rise as the industry approaches the 2020 sulphur cap, according to Veritas Petroleum Services (photo: VPS)

A high number of bunker quality alerts issued last year suggests that fuel challenges will mount as the global sulphur cap approaches, according to Veritas Petroleum Services (VPS).

Alerts are sent when a short-term issue relating to a specific fuel grade and parameter has been identified at a specific port, allowing ship operators to weigh up bunkering options. In 2017, VPS issued more alerts than in any year since 2014, when significant quality issues correlated with large-scale blending and treatment of residual fuels to meet emission control area (ECA) sulphur limits, then at 1.0%.

“We witnessed the worst-case scenario regarding marine fuel quality,” said Steve Bee, author of VPS’s Bunker Alert Review 2017. “The number of alerts for both residual and distillate fuels increased significantly compared to 2016,”

The number of alerts for residual and distillate fuels grew by 33% and 70% respectively year on year. High density, cat fines, sediment and sodium were the biggest problem areas for residual fuel grades, while flash point and cold flow properties (cloud point and pour point) were areas of concern for distillates.

Of the 31 ports requiring a bunker alert last year, 21 were in the Americas, 25 in Europe, seven in the Middle East and five in Asia. VPS noted that alerts regarding distillate fuels had only increased in regions hosting ECA zones, namely Europe and North America, where a tighter sulphur limit of 0.1% has led ship operators to demand cleaner fuels.

The impact of regulatory change on fuel quality has been evident for several years and was seen starkly in 2014 and 2015, VPS noted. When the 0.1% sulphur limit in ECAs came into force in January 2015, demand for distillate fuels increased dramatically. This led to greater levels of treatment and a reduction in the quality of distillate fuel throughput. Conversely, a dramatic decrease was recorded in the number of alerts issued in relation to residual fuels.

The analyst concluded: “Looking forward to 2020, if current trends continue, fuel quality bunker alerts will likely increase in number. This is a strong indicator that fuel quality will continue to be of concern.”

VPS's Bunker Alert Review 2017 can be downloaded here.

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