Lloyd Register’s fuel oil bunker analysis and advisory service (FOBAS) issued an alert on 9 October regarding high levels of catalytic fines (abbreviated to cat fines) found in bunkers supplied in the South Korean ports of Masan, Ulsan, and Yeosu.
Tests on samples collected from ships that were fuelled in the three ports showed cat fine content ranging between 80 and 90 mg/kg, exceeding the 60 mg/kg limit stipulated in ISO 8217:2017.
Cat fines are small particles of silica and alumina that are used to ‘crack’ fuel to improve the efficiency of refining. Unless removed by purification, the cat fines become embedded in engine parts and cause serious engine damage.
“Silica and alumina content at these concentrations may not readily reduce to acceptable levels by means of normal onboard treatment,” FOBAS said.
Traders said a few suppliers had off-spec fuel but this has been mostly resolved.
One South Korean bunker trader told IHS Markit, “The fuel samples probably did not comply with the ISO 8217:2017 specification, but were likely compliant with the earlier ISO 8217:2005 requirement of 80 mg/kg, so the problem doesn’t sound as serious.
“The bunkers are mostly within spec now and the problem seems to be going away.”
Another South Korean bunker trader told IHS Markit that Masan, Ulsan, and Yeosu ports cater mainly to tankers and thus not many ships are affected.
“Busan is the largest bunkering port in South Korea as it is also the busiest port in the country so I don’t think a significant number of ships is affected,” he said.