A fantastic story below from China, of all places, on a topic that affects us all seagoing engineers at one time or another, most of the time we don’t realize until its too late. I thinks its the big dirty secret of the bunker industry, and well worth noting, especially for those dealing with fuel oil on a regular basis, as far as our health is concerned.
THE HAGUE, May 18 (Xinhua) — Dutch Marine Police organized a large-scale inspection for oil companies’ illegal practices of blending heavy fuel oil with hazardous substances in the harbor of Rotterdam in May.
“During three days, we checked whether 30 vessels had the correct documentation. In 12 cases, documents were forged, or the environmental law was violated,” Hans Tuinder, head of the Criminal Investigation department for the Marine Police, told Xinhua.
Over 22,000 vessels are bunkered in the Netherlands annually, taking in around 13 million tonnes of fuel in total. The port of Rotterdam is a major trading location, the source of around 88 percent of all bunker fuel.
A study conducted by the scientific institute CE Delft last year showed some ocean-going vessels were bunkered by fuel oil contaminated with hazardous waste materials.
Fuel oil “naturally” contains a variety of hazardous substances in high concentrations. These are substances present in the crude oil feedstock from which the fuel oil derives from and they end up in a concentrated form in the residue during the refining process.
But some oil companies’ illegal practices make it worse. Instead of taking their waste material to a recognized waste processing company, they blend those materials in fuel oil, which substantially lowers their cost.
“There is strong evidence that many ships blend their waste material with heavy fuel oil. That is very lucrative for them because you not only don’t need to pay for delivering your waste material, but also will even get paid for the blended oil,” said Marine officer Tim Tichelaar.
The practices will not only cause serious damage to ship engines, but also will pose health risks to staff members and residents in surrounding areas, study showed.
But it is “extremely difficult to get hold of these illegal activities” due to the lack of relevant legislation, Tichelaar told Xinhua.
“The law doesn’t prescribe which waste materials are allowed in the fuel oil. So the only thing that is clearly prohibited is to blend the waste materials without the interference of an approved waste treatment plant,” Tichelaar said.
Eelco Leemans, director of the North Sea Foundation, found it peculiar that the Dutch government doesn’t organize a large-scale sample check to detect the composition in the oil.
“I think this is partly because the interests are too big. The authority of the port of Rotterdam is probably too scared that bunker vessels will turn to other harbors in Europe,” he said.
So when it comes to environmental care and fuel quality, most companies operate according to their own standards. According to Ab de Buck, co-writer of the CE Delft report, “the situation at independent oil traders is unclear; these companies are the least transparent of all.”
Although some regulations do exist internationally, they are not satisfactory, he said.
“The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has laid down standards for bunker fuel. But these standards only set maximum limits on fuel sulphur content, which is just a small part of the emitted particles of waste material,” he said.
Pictures from various internet sources