Presence of 4–Cumyl–Phenol Identified! How Bad Bunkers Damage Ships


Do authorities really care?

  • Contaminated fuel delivered in some ports from January 2018
  • Mechanical failures due to contaminated fuels
  • Small plastic stones/rocks found
  • Phenolic compounds found in fuel samples
  • High concentration of boiling carboxylic acids in fuel samples
  • Benzoic acid, cyclohexane, cyclohexanediol isomers and dehydroabietic acid also found in fuel sample
  • For economic reasons blenders/suppliers switch to cheaper alternatives of cutter stocks which contain contaminants

History of events

INTERTANKO Members’ reports indicate that, ships had received contaminated fuels in
ports located in the Houston area as early as January 2018. Since then such deliveries
continued at ports around that area. Reports indicated that contaminated fuels were delivered at some Caribbean ports in April 2018 followed by such deliveries in Malaysia and Singapore.

fuels-clog-ship-engines-in-singapore-hub-surveyor-idINKBN1KH172) Of course, these
are indicative dates based on the limited information we have.

Fuel samples tested

The fuel samples of all ships which had experienced mechanical failures due to the contaminated fuel, were taken during delivery and then tested at reputable laboratories. Routine laboratory analysis of fuel samples showed compliance with ISO-F-RMG 380 grade.

From the reports received, only a few fuel samples indicated a higher Total
Acid Number (TAN) value but not at a level to indicate the use of fuels that may cause
mechanical failures. The test result in one fuel sample had a TAN value
which indicated imminent risks. The ship did not use that fuel and de-bunkered it.

Standard tests failed to detect contaminants

To Conclude, standard fuel oil test methods have failed to detect contaminants.
As a result, ships started to use these fuels on sea passages. The first warning sign for those ships was blockage of fuel filters. Initially, the crew not being aware that the fuel was contaminated, tried to find the cause of the problems but, despite their efforts, they experienced more and more problems.

A summary of further damages encountered:

  • blocking and excessive wear of fuel separators
  • blocking and damages to fuel filters
  • sticking and excessive wear of fuel injection pumps and fuel injectors
  • damage to engine piston rings and excessive wear of the pistons and cylinder liners

Ship Operators suspicion

Only after further damages occurred, the crew and ship operators began to suspect that the cause of the problem might be the fuel which could contain contaminants which are of a non-petroleum refining origin.

As one member commented, when the crew checked the installation they found “small plastic stones/rocks that of course very easily block filters and pumps and result in engine failure/stoppage”.

Advanced Analytical Test on Fuel samples

Consequently, ship operators with ships that have experienced such issues requested
advanced analytical test techniques like Gas Chromatography combined with Mass
Spectrometry (GCMS) to determine reliable source of the problem. Although it is difficult
to provide detailed information on each of these test results, laboratories reported that
phenolic compounds were identified in each of the fuel samples taken from different
ships with 4–Cumyl–Phenol being the phenolic compound of highest concentration.

In addition, all samples contained a high concentration of boiling carboxylic acids (fatty
acids). Some other extra fuel samples showed a presence of benzoic acid, cyclohexane
diol isomers and dehydroabietic acid and other oxygenated compounds.

Regulations and Standards violated

These do not normally form a component of marine fuels and contradict MARPOL Annex VI regulation 18.3 and International Marine Fuel Standard ISO 8217, Clause 5.

A phenolic compound like 4–Cumyl–Phenol is used industrially for developing epoxy
resins (forms a sticky compound) in pesticides, to manufacture lubricants and
surfactants. The presence of 4–Cumyl–Phenol and all other mentioned components are
in violation of Reg. 18.3 of MARPOL Annex VI and Clause 5 of ISO 8217.

Contaminant 4–Cumyl–Phenol, in the past, has been associated also with the use of
fuel oil cutter stocks. Cutter stock is generally a clean light petroleum distillate used to
reduce the viscosity of high viscosity residual fuel oils in order to bring the fuel to “on
spec“. However, due to economic reasons blenders/suppliers allegedly do switch to
cheaper alternatives of cutter stocks which contain contaminants like 4–Cumyl–Phenol.

INTERTANKO Members’ Comment

Although it is not for INTERTANKO to draw a conclusion, advanced test results may indicate that in these cases multiple waste products from multiple sources seem to have been combined into bunker fuel as cutter stock.

It is important and relevant to recall that similar damage to propulsion machinery were
identified in 2007 and 2013, where cutter stock was determined as the possible source of
contamination on fuels delivered in the same US ports.

Enclosure: pictures from ships impacted by the contaminated fuels

HFO separator after one hour operation – blocked by heavy, hard sludge

HFO separator damaged gear due to overload caused by heavy sludge

Fuel injection pump – the plunger was found completely seized in the barrel

Fuel booster plunger stuck in the barrel

Sludge particles

HFO separator – completely blocked by heavy, hard sludge

Fuel filter – visible heavy sludge, which blocked the filter completely

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Source: Intertanko


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