On the 26th April 2018, Veritas Petroleum Services (VPS) issued a Bunker Alert for Fuel contamination informing our clients of multiple vessels impacted by a sticking of fuel plungers, fuel-pump seizures and failures, when burning fuel oil bunkered in Houston, Texas.  At that time it was known to be a wide spread problem that was not limited to any particular supplier or barge, but more a potential upstream production, or refinery issue, with the “true” cause unknown at that time.


Most widespread fuel contamination issues of the recent years

Since the initial VPS Bunker Alert, this problem has grown to have affected at least 30 vessels belonging to VPS clients, making it one of the most widespread fuel quality issues of recent years, with our statistics currently showing eight suppliers and seventeen bunker tankers, in the chain of supply.


Fuel contamination research

Over the past four weeks, a VPS “task-force” across our laboratories, have undertaken detailed forensic analysis of the many samples we have received from numerous vessels. It was critical that we were able to identify which components were common to all of the fuel samples and have the physical properties, which could cause the problems experienced by our clients.

fuel contamination quality research

Using the standard test methods within the ISO 8217 specification, none of the samples gave any clue to the underlying problem.  Therefore it was necessary to utilize additional VPS proprietary test methods in order to identify the true cause of the problem.

Applying our in-house acid extraction GCMS method, phenolic compounds were identified as being present in every one of the 12 samples taken from vessels experiencing problem. The phenolic compound of highest concentration in all samples was:

  •  4-Cumyl-Phenol (CAS No. 599-64-4), full name Phenol, 4-(1-methly-1-phenylethyl) in the concentration range of 300ppm to 1,000ppm.
  • In some samples we also identified high boiling carboxylic acids (fatty acids) but these were present at much lower levels.

4-Cumyl-Phenol has many industrial uses including, the manufacture of epoxy resins and as an emulsifier in pesticides, both of which utilise the adhesive (sticky) qualities 4-cumyl-phenol exhibits.


Fuel contamination analyses

Analysing our database of previous fuel contamination problems, VPS has identified that phenolic contamination of fuel oils gives rise to problems with fuel injection equipment and filter clogging. It is therefore our conclusion that the presence of phenolic compounds are most likely the cause of problems arising from this batch of problem fuel delivered in Houston and surrounding ports.

The presence of this fuel contaminant is in violation of Clause 5 of ISO 8217 which states “The fuel should not include any added substance or chemical waste which jeopardizes the safety or adversely affects the performance of the machinery; or is harmful to personnel; or contributes overall to additional air pollution.”


When vessels are experiencing similar issues it is important that samples are taken from the fuel system for evidence collection and further analysis.


Take a look at following interesting link about Fuel Contamination from Platts as well.