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Operational use of VLSFO likely to be smooth as IMO 2020 rule looms: VPS executive

Singapore — Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil with 0.5% sulfur content is likely to be the main marine fuel choice in 2020 and the operational use of such fuels will be relatively smooth as shipowners are already testing such fuels, Rahul Choudhuri, VPS managing director for Asia, Middle East and Africa, said Friday.

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"If we look at the last four years, we do have a lot of experience with ULSFO or 0.1%-S fuel oil. They have been primarily used in Europe's emission control areas and that is reflected at European ports," Choudhuri said at the Wilhelmsen Ship Management seminar in Singapore.

In Asia, 0.1% sulfur bunker fuel has been mostly bought by shipowners in Singapore. South Korean shipowners have been using this fuel for years, he said.

"Large shipowners have already been sending us the new 0.5% fuel sample test blends, which they are getting ready to use," he said."The density and viscosity [of such fuels] that we have tested so far are in a good range. We think it will be something like 180 CST fuel oil," Choudhuri said.

While 0.5% sulfur fuel oil has a high pour point, they have good ignition and combustion properties, lower cat fines, and a good energy content, he said.

"So, 0.5% sulfur fuel will actually be a better choice," he said, adding that it was imperative for shipowners to put in place a plan to evaluate new fuels by 2020.

Such plans mean that VLSFO 0.5% sulfur fuels need to be rigorously tested to ensure that they not only meet the existing fuel quality standards, but need additional tests to ensure stability and compatibility, he said.

Choudhuri also said that there have been concerns about the widespread cases of bunker fuel contamination that emerged this year, starting from Houston and then spreading to other ports globally.

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"The types of fuel quality problems are getting more complex. Every time there's an environmental regulation, that causes a detrimental change in fuel quality as well," he said.

"All of us need to keep in mind MARPOL Annex VI," Choudhuri said. According to the clause, fuel oil should not include any added substance or chemical waste that jeopardizes the safety of ships or adversely affects the performance of the machinery.

This links to Clause 5 of ISO 8217 International Marine Fuel Standard, he said.

It was essential to retain this clause in its entirety in all supply contracts to provide the maximum protection to a shipowner within ISO 8217, he added.

It was also necessary to raise the crew's awareness about the problems that can arise when using contaminated fuels, monitor fuel pumps and injectors when using new bunker fuels, and implement additional testing methods to detect contaminants, he added.

-- Surabhi Sahu, surabhi.sahu@spglobal.com

-- Edited by E Shailaja Nair, newsdesk@spglobal.com