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Causes and consequences of poor quality bunker fuel

duncan tanner portrait

To minimise the duration and cost of bunker quality disputes, poor quality fuel must be identified at the earliest possible opportunity with the help of technical, legal and commercial experts, writes Duncan Tanner, partner and marine engineer at Brookes Bell.

Poor quality bunker fuel remains a key and problematic issue for the shipping industry. The complex supply chain, in addition to potential discrepancies between different bunker quality clauses in the supplier’s terms and conditions and the charter parties, can result in lengthy and costly disputes.

Causes and consequences of poor quality bunker fuel

Poor blending practice, unusual non-petroleum contaminants and deviations from a vessel’s specified ISO 8217 standard can all trigger bunker fuel defects. The latter is a particular issue for charterers, who purchase the majority of bunker fuel and tend to look for the cheapest options. As a result, purchasing decisions are sometimes made with little understanding of the bunker being supplied. This, in turn, can lead to the sale of fuel based on ISO 8217 (2005), which will not be acceptable in a charterparty with a fuel quality definition that requires the more recent ISO 8217 (2017).

Managing a fuel quality claim  

If engine damage is suspected, it is critical to effectively evaluate the extent to which fuel has deviated from a vessel’s specified fuel quality clause, and to carefully consider all consequences. The financial and technical issues resulting from bunker fuel defects include:

  • Engine damage
  • Lost time
  • Port dues
  • Surveyor’s fees
  • De-bunkering costs
  • The lost value of the removed bunkers
  • Vessel deviation costs charged by a port of refuge.
All parties involved with bunker quality disputes should ideally work together to agree a plan to mitigate costs, time and damage. Decisions should be made as soon as possible on critical items including the location and extent of engine repairs; necessary deviations from a vessel’s intended voyage for repairs or 


Managing a fuel quality claim  

When resolving a bunker quality claim, evidence is the single biggest factor with which cases are won or lost. As such, the role of a competent, experienced surveyor within a claims handling team should not be underestimated. If a case proceeds to a litigation process, it will be necessary for expert witnesses to submit reports and give oral evidence. An unsuitable or inexperienced expert could place an entire case in jeopardy.

Ultimately if a bunker quality defect is suspected, it is essential to obtain the right advice as soon as possible – before evidence disappears or the extent of damage increases.