Houston (Platts)–30 May 2018

Bunker fuel samples taken from ships in the Houston area that had experienced mechanical issues contained a phenolic compound, a violation of ISO 8217 specification standards, fuel service testing company Veritas Petroleum Services has reported.

These ships were tested following numerous engine and vessel malfunctions following the loading and usage of fuel purchased in the Houston area.

The VPS report noted the presence of multiple phenolic compounds in fuel samples, but one in particular, 4-cumylphenol, was found in most of the ships tested. The compound was found in concentration ranging from 300 ppm up to 1,000 ppm, VPS said in a statement late Tuesday.

Sources last week said more than 80 ships had been affected by this fuel, with some ships facing more extensive damage than others.

While ISO 8217 specifications do not explicitly state a maximum content of phenolic compounds, a clause in the 2010 standards states that marine fuels “shall be free from any material that renders the fuel unacceptable for use in marine applications.”

One US trader Wednesday said the compound ended up in bunker fuel likely from a cutterstock. The trader said some petrochemical streams contain compounds like 4-cumylphenol, which can cause issues like fuel plungers sticking and the failure of fuel pumps, which have been seen from vessels in Houston in recent weeks and months. The VPS report noted that 4-cumylphenol is often used in products like resins for its binding and adhesive qualities.

USGC fuel oil traders said cutterstock has been expensive due to a lack of light cycle oil an slurry in the region, as well as HSFO imports that have seen viscosity levels above 600 CST. A low viscosity cutter would be necessary to blend the fuel down to meet the RMG 380 minimum standards for bunker fuel.

Multiple traders and suppliers said these phenolic compounds did not show up on standard ISO 8217 tests, and required more expensive and comprehensive testing to determine the components causing the issues in vessels. The lack of ease in determining the problem sources said slowed bunker sales, as ship-owners looked to other ports to refuel if possible.

“It’s going to be a mess to figure out,” one US Gulf Coast supplier said Wednesday.

While the compounds have been determined, the original source of the fuels in question has yet to be answered. Previous instances of large-scale contamination that resulted in damaged ships have resulted in extensive lawsuits that require years of litigation.


–Patrick Burns, patrick.burns@spglobal.com

–Edited by Richard Rubin, richard.rubin@spglobal.com