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Avoid costly cat fine problems with the right fuel handling and purification procedures: Skuld

P&I club explains why it is 'essential' to bring cat fine levels down during fuel handling and purification.

Image credit: Pixabay CC0

Updated on 09 Jul 2018 12:47 GMT

P&I club Skuld has published details of a case study involving a cargo vessel that suffered costly engine damage due to the failure to correctly handle and purify the bunker fuel in order to reduce the presence of hard aluminium and silicon oxide particles - known as catalytic fines (cat fines) - to the level recommended by engine manufacturers.

The unnamed ship is said to have been on a laden voyage when heavy smoke started rising from the funnel. Subsequent inspections revealed scratch marks and cracks in one of the cylinder liners.

A new piston was fitted and the voyage continued to the destination port; however, on arrival, inspections revealed cracks in another cylinder liner, worn piston ring grooves and broken/seized piston rings. This was despite the units only having 1,000 running hours.

A laboratory analysis of the high- and low-sulphur heavy fuel oil (HFO) samples from recent deliveries showed that the aluminium + silicon level in the fuel was found to be high, but within the ISO specification.

An attention warning had been given by the fuel testing laboratory on how to handle and pre-condition the low-sulphur fuel before entering the engine; however, the ship's engineers increased the temperature and lowered the feed rate of the separators, but did not run the separators in series, as advised. One separator was running while the other was kept in stand-by.

As a result, the damage was deemed to have been caused by not correctly handling and purifying the fuel to reduce the presence of cat fines.

Follow handling and purification procedures to ensure 15 mg/kg

In ISO's 8217:2005 standard, the maximum permissible level of cat fines, measured as aluminium + silicon (al+si), was 80 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) - or parts per million (ppm) - for fuels ranging from 30 centistoke (cSt) to 700 (cSt). This comprised RMA 30, RMB 30, RMD 80, RME 180, RMF 180, RMG 380, RMH 380, RMK 380, RMH 700 and RMK 700.

Then, in 8217:2010, ISO introduced a 20 mg/kg reduction to 60 mg/kg for RMG 180, RMG 380, RMK 380, RMG 500, RMK 500, RMG 700 and RMK 700, whilst the upper limit for RME 180, RMD 80 and RMB 30 was lowered to 50, 40 and 40 mg/kg respectively. RMA 10 was set at 25 mg/kg.

In its latest 8217:2017 standard, the aforementioned maximum levels were maintained.

Skuld explains that engine manufacturers generally recommend a maximum of 15 ppm level of cat fines in the fuel entering the engines.

"As this level is significantly lower than the levels specified in the ISO Standards, it is essential to ensure adequate fuel handling and purification equipment and procedures are in place [on board] to effectively bring the levels of cat fines in the fuel below 15 ppm," Skuld says.

The P&I club also notes that low-sulphur fuel oils (LSFO) typically have a higher content of cat fines than high-sulphur fuels as fines end up in the low-sulphur by-products from refining processes and the by-products are blended with residual fuels to reduce their sulphur content.

Related Links:

Skuld issues bunker sample best practice guide
Understanding 'about' in bunker consumption clauses
FOBAS issues off-spec cat fine alert in Fujairah
The fuel-efficient way to improve cat fine protection

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