London - Disruption to shipping from the long-anticipated switch to more environmentally friendly marine fuels has finally arrived, exacerbated by logistical problems as much as any shortage of the cleaner fuel. New International Maritime Organization (IMO) rules, referred to as IMO 2020, aim to stop ships from using fuels containing more than 0.5% sulphur unless they are equipped with exhaust-cleaning systems known as scrubbers. From the start of January ships must load very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) or more expensive marine diesel unless they have scrubbers for the old high-sulphur fuel oil (HSFO).
The new regulations have been on the radar (click here) since 2016, with no prospect of any extension to the 2020 deadline, prompting concern from oil producers, storage operators and shippers and multiple warnings over the potential for a chaotic switch. With only a minority of ships in the global fleet having installed scrubbers, the oil industry had feared refiners would not be able to make enough diesel and VLSFO. But delays appear to be more down to a lack of refuelling barges than the fuel itself, with sources saying that major ports are running 10 days behind schedule across fuel types. “It’s a very disrupted bunkering market,” one senior industry executive said of the ship fuelling sector, declining to be named because of company policy. “There is enough product in most places but it’s the barge availability that’s a problem. The executive said that first availability in Singapore is not until Dec. 15 for the 0.5% grade -- a long 10-12 day wait compared with the usual 3-5 days. There have been similar delays at Brazilian ports and in the busy Mediterranean terminals of Gibraltar and Malta, he added. The delays have been creeping up steadily in recent weeks as ship owners swap to the cleaner fuels ahead of the fast-approaching deadline. Shipping sources said there have also been delays of about a week at the Middle East hub of Fujairah.
In addition to refined VLSFO the fuel can be produced through blending. But the mingling of fuel from different sources can cause compatibility issues that clog engines. The industry executive said there have been several cases of tankers having to discharge freshly loaded fuel because of quality issues, which can tie up barges for several days.