Who is at Fault – Supplier of the Fuel or User?




Supplier supplied a fuel that caused serious damage to the machinery. The vessel was incapacitated and had to be towed. The cost to the vessel operator was more than $1 million.

Fuel was tested in full detail and also purifier efficiency was tested. The purifier efficiency was found to be poor. Main filters choked and apparently the filters were bypassed since the vessel was coming to a stop in a heavy traffic area. This was a panicky action on the part of the ship staff.

The fuel contained Asphalt (not asphaltene). Asphalt particles are larger particles, 40 to 80 micron, hard and would normally be thrown out by the purifier. Since purifier efficiency was low, these particles passed and went and choked the main filter. Bypassing the filter allowed these particles to enter the main engine fuel system


The supplier refused to accept the claim from the operator stating that he is not required to supply a fuel that can be used in the engines directly. He claimed that there was an obligation on the part of the ship operator to run the onboard fuel treatment plant properly which included settling, draining, purifying and filtering. If this plant did not operate properly, he is not responsible.

The ship operator took a stand that a bunker fuel should not contain asphalt particles. The supplier had no business supplying a fuel that contained this impurity. It is none of the business of the supplier to comment on the treatment plant onboard. Suppliers responsibility is to supply a problem-free fuel.


In a recent conference which was attended by 40+ technical superintendents, 100+ Chief and second engineers, Ship Owners and Managers – the same case was presented with four options as below.

  1. Fuel user is at fault,
  2. Fuel Supplier is at fault,
  3. Both are at Fault,
  4. None at Fault.

The response to the above voting were as below:

Conference response

Viswa Lab was involved in this interesting case. The bunker quantity involved was 2,000 MT. The operator recognizing that purifier may not have been operating at highest efficiency, checked and adjusted and ran the purifier under optimum conditions. The purifier efficiency increased significantly. In the purifier outlet, no particles of asphalt were found. The operator had to decide on what to do with the 2,000 MT of bunker fuel onboard. Both de-bunkering and keeping it onboard were expensive and time-consuming. With the lab approval, the vessel started using the 2,000 MT of fuel. Since the purifier was operating efficiently and the filters did not choke, there was no problem in using the fuel.

The operator may still have had a case against the supplier but since his problem got sorted out, he did not want to press the case. The name of the vessel and the Management is withheld for privacy reasons and this write-up is exclusively for sharing knowledge and spread awareness.

We thank Viswa Lab for sharing such real-time cases which are interesting and note-worthy. If you have come across such cases or you would like to share any incidents, do write to us – E-MAIL


  1. The purification is critical part of fuel treatment.
    When the particles are of the size 40-80 mc at the filters,the purification is questionable.
    The operator contributed to the problems and damages.

    • Dear Mr. Vlad,
      Thanks for your comments. You are absolutely correct about the particle sizes and purification. We will soon reveal on what exactly has happened in this case.
      Stay in touch with us.

  2. Supplier fault as he supplied bad fuel with Asphalt which is not possible to purify. If supplier is made responsible for such faiulres, fuel quality will quickly improve.

  3. The regulatory body must reduce the acceptable limit – for example Catfines limit to below 15 ppm. At present the standard limit is 80 ppm is way higher than safe limit. Supplier is Ok in his position as long as he is within the specification.

    • Dear Mr. Ahsan,
      Thanks for your comments.
      You are absolutely correct about catfines. However in this case it was Asphalt which is not part of ISO specifications.
      I completely agree with you that if the regulatory body (IMO) or (ISO) bring the limits down, it will drastically improve the fuel quality. We will soon reveal on what exactly has happened in this case.


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