Bunker Fuel Pre-Testing | Teekay

Bunker Fuel Pre-Testing

26 August 2019

How do we as ship owners protect ourselves from chemical contaminants in bunker fuel deliveries? 

As getting bunker fuel on board a ship is a lot easier than getting it taken off, the best solution for ship owners to protect themselves from “bad bunkers” is to pre-test the fuel that is to be supplied to your vessel. This pre-testing process can be difficult to arrange and requires a bunker supplier’s agreement at the time of nomination, as well as an agreed solution if the product is found to be contaminated. However, this work may prove to be invaluable if it stops you having to de-bunker thousands of tonnes of fuel oil at a later date, as well as deal with managing the vessel’s voyage with limited bunker capacity, and of course any loss of hire from the vessel not being able to perform as it should. 

Teekay Fuel Services (TFS) has worked hard to introduce pre-testing of bunkers in the world’s major bunker ports, such as Singapore, Fujairah, ARA and Houston. We now have robust processes in place to ensure we pre-test the bunkers we lift in major bunker hubs. There are only a few laboratories in the world that can perform GC-MS analysis, and these labs tend to be in or close to the major bunker hubs. This is an important factor when pre-testing any bunker fuel: can you get the sample taken and tested before the barge loads the product? We have also worked with the local laboratories to bring down the cost of testing, as well as speeding up the turnaround time in places like Singapore. 

Pre-testing of bunkers is a way for Teekay Tankers to avoid getting “bad bunkers” on board any of our owned or pool managed vessels. To some, the cost of pre-testing bunkers may seem like a high additional cost, especially considering the current shipping environment, however, spending about $1500/2000 per vessel is a lot cheaper than the de-bunkering costs which can exceed $350k for one of our Suezmax vessels. 

Pre-testing of bunkers is a prudent measure in the current bunker market. In a few weeks the global marine fleet will be transitioning to a new grade for IMO 2020 regulations, and who knows what surprises may be lurking in the new fuel oil blends? 

Due to the nature of the global bunker market, analysis of the fuel your vessel is about to burn is essential if you want to avoid any damage to machinery onboard. Fuel oils are frequently blended and cracked, which can lead to unstable fuels, or some aspects of the fuels being near or over the limit of the ISO 8217 specification.  

In 2018, the bunker market was rocked by a serious case of chemical contamination in fuel oils that originated in Houston, but quickly spread to other bunker hubs such as Panama and Singapore. This event caused serious consequences for hundreds of vessels, some even experiencing the nightmare of a black out at sea. These incidents can have serious consequences for both ship owners and charterers if vessels cannot perform as they should; cause serious damage to machinery and engines on board, and the financial implications that follow. In the worst case the vessel and cargo are put in danger along with lives of the crew onboard. 

The 2018 Houston “bad bunkers” event was especially significant due to the type of contamination to the fuel oil. The chemical contaminants were causing serious engine problems to some vessels, however, all the fuel was bought against ISO 8217 specs. This would normally be reassuring for ship owners, as they had purchased a fuel against an internationally recognised specification. However, none of the chemical contaminants are mentioned in the ISO 8217 specification, and thus, not specifically covered by the specification.  

Table 2 of ISO 8217 lists the minimum or maximum values for Sulphur, water, H2S etc, however, there are literally thousands of compounds, such as chemical contaminants that are not specifically mentioned. This meant that these fuels could be tested against the ISO 8217 specification and be found to be on specification. The only tests that would identify the contaminants and their concentration are gas chromatography combined with mass spectrometry, known as GC-MS tests. 

Clause 5 of the ISO 8217 specifications does deal with contaminants not listed in Table 2: 

  • “A homogenous blend of hydro-carbons derived from petroleum refining”. 
  • “Free of inorganic acids and used lubricating oil”. 
  • “Free of any material that renders a fuel unacceptable for use in marine applications”. 
  • “Shall not contain any additive at the concentration used in the fuel or any added substance of chemical waste that jeopardises the safety of the ship or adversely affects the performance of the machinery”. 

As the above wording is vague, and sets no limits for different contaminants, it makes any legal claims against suppliers difficult. How can it be proved that a chemical contaminant is causing problems for the vessel? 

This puts ship owners in a difficult position, as a fuel may meet the Table 2 specification in ISO 8217, but it may also have chemical contaminants that are not specifically listed in the specification, and the only way to test for these contaminants is a GC-MS test that is also not part of the standard tests in the specification. 

Want to find out more? 

Teekay Fuel Services is easy to sign up to, simply send an email with your bunker enquiry to ttsbunkers@teekay.com and we will revert. If you would like to discuss any of our services, please call Mads Bjornebye on +44 207 4511 109. 

With Teekay Fuel Services you can use us for one off bunker enquiries, or we can act as your complete bunker manager. Teekay Fuel Services is a fully transparent bunker broker, we have a standard commission of $2.00 per metric tonne, and we can take this from the supplier as a standard broker, or we can charge commissions directly to the buyer on a monthly or quarterly basis. We are happy to discuss your needs and can tailor a package to suit.  Teekay Fuel Services acts as an owner broker, and we will never put any bunkers on your ship that we would not put on our own ships. 


Mads Bjornebye:  Tel: +44 207 4511 109 

Leo Bakaric:  Tel: +65 6692 9083 

Paul Roberts: Tel: +44 207 3891 419