Sailing, Ports & Shipping
There are signs that IMO-compliant marine fuel is becoming more widely available in ports around the world, with shipowners filing fewer non-availability reports.
Shipowners filed 41 compliant fuel non-availability reports (Fonars) to the IMO in January. The number dropped to six in February, and just one has been filed in March so far.
Fonars were set up as a reporting mechanism for shipowners that are unable to source fuel in ports compliant with the IMO's 0.5pc sulphur cap from 1 January. If a ship enters a port with no 0.5pc sulphur fuel oil available to bunker, the ship's operator must also check if 0.1pc or 0.5pc sulphur marine gasoil (MGO) are available before it can submit a Fonar to the ship's flag authority.
Of the Fonars filed so far this year, 34 relate to a lack of 0.5pc sulphur fuel oil in a port, two for a lack of 0.1pc sulphur MGO, and three for a lack of both. The remaining nine referenced bunkered fuel that tested off-specification with too high sulphur content.
New 0.5pc fuel oil blends were offered in several of the world's main bunkering hubs for testing throughout 2019 and increasingly in commercial volumes from November. But supply of 0.5pc fuel oil remained patchy in some smaller bunkering locations in the lead-up to the sulphur cap and after it came into effect.
As shipowners were reconfiguring their bunker procurement networks, they occasionally encountered ports where fuel with less than 0.5pc sulphur content was not available.
Saudi Arabian ports had the most non-availability, with two Fonars filed for each of Yanbu and Jeddah and one for Dhuba. Brazil, Egypt and India had four each, while South Africa and Sri Lanka had three each.
Shipping association Bimco has said the low number of Fonars filed to the IMO may not be reflective of non-availability because it does not count shipowners that wait for fuel to become available in a port or travel to a different port to source IMO-compliant fuel there instead.
Limited availability of compliant fuels in Singapore and Port Klang in Malaysia at the start of the year led to waiting times of up to 8-9 days. But there have not been any Fonars filed to the IMO for either of those ports.
Of the nine Fonars relating to bunkered fuel that tested off-specification, two included documentation: one in Malta and one in Cristobal, Panama. All of these instances of fuel with off-spec sulphur content were in January, when the bunker industry was experiencing teething problems, most notably off-spec sediment levels in the new 0.5pc fuel oil blends.
By Erik Hoffmann