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GLOBAL: QUALITY CONTROL

Following a noticeable rise in bunker quality problems across the world in the last month, Bunkerspot speaks to Veritas Petroleum Services’ Group Commercial & Business Development Director, Steve Bee, to discuss some of the issues the fuel testing agency has encountered.

Last week, Fuel Oil Bunkering Analysis and Advisory Service (FOBAS) highlighted problems at Galveston and nearby US Gulf ports relating to RMG 380 grade. Further testing suggested the presence of certain fatty acids, which the Lloyd’s Register (LR) subsidiary said ‘should not be present in marine fuels’ and have been linked to sticking and damaged fuel pump components in the past.

This observation was shared by fuel testing agency V-P-S. Last week, the company issued a bunker alert for the ports of Houston and Corpus Christi relating to sediment and high acid issues.

‘It is without a doubt a key concern,’ says Group Commercial & Business Development Director, Steve Bee.

According to Bee, over the first four months of 2018, there have been nine Americas-related VPS bunker alerts of which seven relate to the United States.

‘We have seen contamination cases in Houston,’ says Bee. ‘There have been numerous cases of sludging within fuel in the Gulf.

This issue, says Bee, has been ongoing for approximately one month. Accordingly, VPS is currently conducting a research programme aimed at establishing the root cause of the issue. The company is carrying out a suite of forensic analytical tests in order to identify the contaminants.

‘There’s a whole range of things that we’re looking at,’ says Bee.

Recent fuel quality issues, however, have not been exclusive to the US Gulf region. Bunkerspot has learned of fuel quality issues relating to viscosity and density in the Mediterranean while in Singapore there have also been reports of an increase in off-spec bunkers, which in turn has bumped up the price of heavy fuel oil (HFO) 380 centistoke (cSt) at the global bunker hub. (BPI data shows that between 18 April and 30 April, the price of HFO 380 cSt rose 7%, from $392 per metric tonne (mt) to $420 per mt.)

In 2018, VPS has issued four bunker alerts relating to Asia, Middle East and Africa, three of which have involved residual bunker fuel. According to Bee, these three are connected to catalytic (cat) fines. For the cases involving distillate fuel, the main issues have been issues related to flashpoint.

‘[This suggests] that marine gas oil is probably being blended with more volatile material,’ says Bee.

‘It is too early to identify the source of the problem, but its certainly not related to any single supplier. I’m sure we will get to the bottom of it in the next couple of weeks.’

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