The switch to low-sulfur fuel has not been without problems

BIMCO, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), INTERCARGO, and INTERTANKO have published the results of an industry survey aimed at getting an overview of how the industry has experienced the transition to using compliant low-sulfur fuel oil from 1 January 2020.

The survey was launched on 24 February 2020 and ended on 6 May 2020, and the main focus of the survey is on problematic properties of the IMO 2020 compliant fuel oil that can lead to issues.

“The survey gives us valuable insight into the magnitude and nature of problems encountered by the industry in the transition to using low-sulfur fuel oil. The industry had widespread experience with how to manage heavy fuel oil, and the survey provides insight into which parameters of the new fuel types are posing the biggest challenges for onboard fuel management,” says Christian Bækmark Schiolborg, Manager, Marine Environment at BIMCO.

The survey focuses on potential problems such as increased sludge discharge, clogging of fuel pipes, preheaters, fuel separators and fuel filters, fuel pumps getting stuck, problems with fuel injection, and poor ignition of fuel oil. It also focuses on other issues regarding incomplete combustion, wax appearance, and increased wear and tear of cylinder liners. These are problems that may lead to loss of propulsion and/or black out.

The survey indicates global challenges with fuel characteristics and limits being off specifications most frequently when it comes to total sediment, aluminium plus silicon, pour point, ash, flash point, acid number, and viscosity.

It also indicates that the most common operational problems experienced are increased sludge deposits and wax appearance after switching to the compliant fuel oils with a sulfur content not exceeding 0.50%.

Lastly, the survey indicates that when commercial fuel oil samples are tested after bunkering, sulfur content is among the most frequent parameters to be indicated as off specifications, and consequently an indication of potential non-compliance with MARPOL annex VI.