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Essential fuel management skills for operating in ECAs

Essential fuel management skills for operating in ECAs
Since 1 January 2015, vessels operating within the Emission Control Areas (ECAs) must burn fuel with a sulphur limit of 0.1% m/m or be fitted with exhaust gas cleaning systems (scrubbers).

Given the sharp drop in oil prices, most ship owners and operators have chosen to use marine gas oil when navigating in an ECA. This is because although most medium speed and low speed marine engines are designed for residual fuel operation, they are also capable of operating on distillate fuel.

Risks Associated with use of distillates

Nevertheless, low sulphur content distillates pose operational challenges for vessel operators, and the parameters below should be noted.

  • Low viscosity – a decrease in viscosity causes leakage, leading to engine failure and non-propulsion
  • Low flashpoint – this is a phenomenon that has increased recently and poses significant risk to the safety of crew and vessel
  • High pour point – this increases the possibility of not being able to use the fuel at low temperatures
  • Incompatibility – the risk of incompatibility between residual fuels and distillates is higher than that of mixing different types of residual fuels
  • Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME) – FAME as a biodiesel has good ignition quality and lubricity properties. However, potential complications could surface with respect to storage and handling in marine environments
  • Microbiological contamination – this will lead to clogged filters and corrosion in the fuel system and tanks.

The above possible operational challenges clearly underscore the fact that distillates are not the trouble-free products that many ship operators consider them to be. Hence, to ensure that a distillate meets the required specifications and prevent major damages to a vessel, the fuel should always be tested before use.

Advent of ECA compliant or ‘Hybrid’ fuels

These new fuels offer ship operators an interesting option with higher viscosity, higher flash point, better ignition and combustion properties. New versions of these hybrid fuels are getting better and better. But they are specially prepared fuels and need close monitoring for quality and usage.

Fuel System Check for prevention of engine damage

Fuel System Check (FSC) is an essential tool where samples are taken to verify centrifuge efficiency. For a minimum fuel system assessment, one sample should be taken before and another taken after the separator.

Catalytic fines are found to be responsible for a significant number of high cylinder wear cases in marine engines. These small, highly abrasive particles of powdered aluminium‐silica based material which have 'escaped' from the Fluidized Catalytic Cracking process (FCC) can cause abrasive wear of fuel pumps, injectors, piston rings and cylinder liners.

A Fuel System Check programme optimizes separator performance through regular checks of the onboard separation efficiency, and when combined with crew awareness and training, the risk of experiencing cat fines related engine wear can be greatly reduced.

Hidden dangers of fuel quality in emergency equipment

Not much attention have been paid to the quality of fuel being used for emergency equipment like emergency generators, life boat engines and emergency fire pumps. Engines may also fail to operate when they are needed most in emergencies.

As fuels in the emergency equipment storage tanks remain unused for long periods of time, their quality may deteriorate due to the following conditions:

  • Water(condensation/contamination)
  • Growth of microorganisms like bacteria, yeast and fungi
  • Oxidation stability
  • Presence of Fatty Acid Methyl Esters (FAME)

It is thus obvious that precaution such as the monitoring of fuel in storage tanks through regular quality tests should be taken to ensure fuels used in emergency equipment are ‘fit for purpose’. This cannot be taken for granted as modern fuels are not the same as those used a decade ago.

Importance of the ISO 8217 : 2012 marine fuel specifications

All ship operators are advised to adopt the ISO 8217:2012 marine fuel specifications as it is an improved edition and offers greater protection to fuel buyers with its stricter test limits and additional quality parameters.

Non-compliant Samples

The seal number for a sample collected during bunkering should be clearly recorded in the Bunker Delivery Note (BDN) in order for the fuel to be considered a valid representative sample by the supplier and/or port authority in the event of a dispute. Use of a professional surveyor is a prudent step in building crew awareness & avoiding non-compliance.

Re-thinking Fuel Analysis

From the above, it can be seen that fuel analysis is simple yet effective measure against many operational problems for all ship operators and owners.

With the blending of fuel stock for compliance with sulphur limits in ECAs, fuel quality issues have become more complex and from the economic point of view, bunker fuel testing is an insurance against major damages for a vessel.

It is evident that investing in a comprehensive fuel analysis programme will help a ship owner or operator save large sums of money on damaged engines and operational downtime.

Contributed by Abdul Ghani Bin Mohammed, senior sales manager, AMEA, at Veritas Petroleum Services. Email : [email protected]