US – Safety Alert for Marine Heavy Fuel oil in Houston area

6 August 2018 No.979

It is alerted that since April this year, the vessel engine problems caused by contaminated vessel fuel oil bunkers supplied at Houston and surrounding ports in the USA. We also obtained further information about the recent same sort of problems occurred in Panama as well as Singapore. Under these circumstances, please pay thorough attention whenever you use fuel oil bunkers at the ports in the concerned areas.

  1. Outline of "Safety Alert 10-18" US Coast Guard (USCG)

  2. Marine Safety Alert 10-18, “USCG Marine Safety Alert 10-18: We’ve all experienced bad gas, but how about IFO 380? U.S. Gulf Coast Bunker Contamination” (Please refer to the attachment ), raises awareness of a significant emerging problem at Houston and surrounding ports in the USA regarding contaminated vessel fuel oil bunkers and the use of blended fuel oil such as Intermediate Fuel Oil (IFO 380). The Outline of the Marine Safety Alert 10-18 are as follows;


    • The fuel oil contamination could bring engine failures which might constitute the factor of associated losses of propulsion potentially having catastrophic and wide ranging consequences. The presence of these substances within the fuel is in violation of MARPOL Annex VI regulation 18.3 and Clause 5 of ISO 8217 which indicates the fuel shall not include any added harmful substance. However, this fuel oil contained the substances which lead to engine failures, sticking fuel plungers and fuel pump seizures and other engine fuel oil supply system. Furthermore, the fuel may increase sediment levels at separators and fuel filters and, in some cases, may completely clog filters.

    • The standard fuel oil test methods found in the ISO 8217 specification will not detect these underlying problems of contamination. It is important for the vessel owners, the managers, and the vessel operators to send and analyse the fuel oil sample in order to identify and recognise whether the fuel oil is in the appropriate range of usage or not.

    Preventive Counter measure

    The USCG recommend the vessel owners, the managers, and the vessel operators to pay an attention and require caution regarding the following matter;

    • to aware this potential hazardous condition,
    • to monitor and pay attention to fuel oil system components onboard the vessel closely and carefully, such as the fuel supply and fuel injection equipment.
    • to consult their bunker suppliers and other technical service providers regarding this issue,
    • to pay attention to the terms of the bunker requisition.
    • to specify that the fuel must be absent of abnormal components.
    • to determine the acid number of the fuel

  3. Related Information
  4. We have obtained following information from our local correspondents/members;

    • The problem seems to be spread across the spectrum of bunker suppliers at Houston and surrounding ports in the USA.
    • Since the bunker suppliers would buy from each other depending on their needs and availability, its supply chains are too sophisticated to find and determine the source of the outbreak.
    • Similar cases, such as fuel pump sticking and excessive sludge generation, and detection of phenolic compounds by special analysis, have also been reported in Singapore.
    • Similar cases have also been reported in Panama.

  5. Reference
  6. We issued Loss Prevention Bulletin No. 30, “Bunkers - Quantity and Quality Disputes” in 2014. It contains some information about the handling of poor-quality marine fuels.