Bunkers: a guide to quality and quantity claims by the UK Defence Club

The quality of bunker fuel continues to be a source of concern to shipowners and charterers. Over the last 30 years or so, enhanced refining techniques have resulted in a decline in the quality of residual fuel and the refinery side streams used as blend components. Added to this the demand for low sulphur fuel has resulted in heavy blending and the use of inappropriate blend components. Unfortunately some marine fuels have also been used as a dumping ground for waste chemicals and organic substances that have caused serious operating problems. Engine damage and resultant lost time caused by bunker quality problems occur all too frequently.

Claims arising from these problems are in general complicated and they are often frustrated by lack of evidence, including representative samples, storage and consumption documentation and fuel analysis reports. In some cases the fuel quality appears to have met the relevant fuel specification but further extensive testing reveals the presence of unusual contaminants. Linking these to engine damage has proved difficult and it has been necessary to undertake metallurgical examination of worn or damaged components to determine causation. Preservation of damaged parts has become as important as preserving representative fuel samples.

In this publication we set out some important procedures that should be adopted in order to reduce the chances of fuel related engine damage and ship down time and provide valuable evidence should a bunker quality claim occur. We also highlight steps that can be taken to minimise the likelihood of bunker quantity claims and review some of the key legal principles relating to the supply of bunkers.

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