HFO availability a growing concern: Total

Jérôme Leprince-Ringuet warned high-sulphur fuel oil (HSFO) availability would almost certainly diminish as a result of decreasing demand (credit: Total). Jérôme Leprince-Ringuet warned high-sulphur fuel oil (HSFO) availability would almost certainly diminish as a result of decreasing demand (credit: Total)
Industry Database

Total is urging shipowners to undertake careful fuel and luboil testing on their vessels ahead of time to avoid breakdowns come 2020, with supply challenges abounding on entry into force of the IMO’s 0.5% global sulphur cap.

In a press conference in London on Thursday, Jérôme Leprince-Ringuet, Total Marine Fuels Global Solutions Manager, warned shipowners that only 10-20% of the maritime industry will have scrubbers fitted, bringing high-sulphur fuel oil (HSFO) from a mass-market product to something representing a relatively small niche – one that it would be difficult, in the coming months, to provide for. Availability of HSFO at bunkering facilities should not be taken for granted, he said, and would almost certainly diminish as a result of decreasing demand.

“As a fuel provider, I have to rearrange my logistics at the refinery to be able to provide low-sulphur fuels. Will I keep my logistics in place at the refinery? For who? You need to discuss with your supplier as to whether fuel will be available.”

The view appears to vindicate commentators who have argued that owners having invested in scrubbers would represent a captive market. “HSFO will be available in major hubs, certainly, but if you think you’re going to get it everywhere – that’s not true,” Leprince-Ringuet said.

Meanwhile, the properties of low-sulphur fuel will vary between batches, Leprince-Ringuet explained, unless shipowners are willing to pay a premium, on top of that for low-sulphur fuel, for guaranteed viscosity and cold-flow properties.

“From next year we will grade low sulphur fuels based on the sulphur content, and no longer on the viscosity – there will be one grade, 0.5% sulphur, and that’s it,” he said. The fuels we produce will have lower viscosity than the fuels today, and will vary dramatically from one batch to another. 380cSt is the maximum, but there is no minimum today. Of course, if one day I provide 380cSt and the next I provide 30cSt, I will need to tell you.

“This is something that can be handled aboard the vessel, in my opinion; it does not matter that much for the chief engineer, because if the ship has a boiler, as most do, he can manage the temperature of the product when it goes in. If it’s not too broad, it is manageable. If you don’t have a heating system you will have to manage this. You may want to ask your supplier for a specific cap.

“My conviction is that the majority of you will need to know the sulphur measurement, and only a few of you will need to know the viscosity. We will of course propose a minimum viscosity, but it comes with a cost, because what is not mainstream is bespoke. Most customers will not be willing to pay for a specific viscosity on top of a specific sulphur content,” Leprince-Ringuet said.

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