California Air Cleaner but Fuel Change Related Incidents on the Increase

By George Backwell at July 24, 2011 04:35
Filed Under: General

Results of an extensive atmospheric research project carried out in 2010 have now proved California’s clean-fuel regulations (applied within 24 miles of the coast since July 2009) have been effective in reducing Sulphur Dioxide air pollution from ships. In a recent press release,  Chairman of California Air Resources Board, Mary D. Nichols declared this as good news for California, and for the nation.  But there is a downside to that good news; the procedure of fuel-switching from heavy fuel (HFO) to low-sulfur distillate fuel oil (LSDFO) carries a risk of engine shutdown or malfunction, and the frequency of these incidents is on the increase.

Spearheaded by scientists aboard NOAA research ship Atlantis the composition of emissions from more than 70 ships over 24 days was analysed during the ARB federal-state research project, and within that timeframe researchers also found that all ships were burning low-sulfur fuel. Assuredly, for economy, the majority had switched fuel from HFO to LSDO  before entering the fuel control area.

Indeed, USCG District Eleven, which oversees maritime safety off the western U.S. seaboard, quotes an increase in the number of fuel switching occasioned loss of propulsion incidents (although interestingly the number of such incidents had earlier been on the decline). Shipmasters would no doubt mostly agree that a main diesel engine shutdown in a deep-draft vessel sailing in congested coastal waters is a recurring nightmare, with shades of potential marine disasters, grounding and  collision.

Bulker Aground: Photo credit – Soman

Engine Problems Related to Switching Over to LSDFO

An Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) paper ‘Unintended Consequences’ listed some of the engine problems linked to switch-overs from heavier fuel oils to LSDFO in order to comply with local area emission control regulations. They include:

    •    Engine temperature increase in pistons/cylinders (fuel of sufficient viscosity hard to find)
    •    Poor engine performance/stall outs at low RPM
    •    Insufficient fuel oil pump pressure
    •    Fuel system leaks (fire risk)
    •    Fuel pump malfunctions and wear
    •    Poor/failure of engine to operate in astern mode
    •    The existence of poor switching procedures

USCG Safety Alert – Fuel Switching Safety

USCG  (Marine Safety Alert 11-01 of 11, July 2011) indicated that lack of maintenance and testing of certain systems, including fuel oil systems, is one of the leading causes of propulsion failures. Guidelines are provided in the USCG notice to help manage risk and to ameliorate most of the problems mentioned in the above list.

A particularly wise piece of advice from the coastguard stands out in this safety alert: switch fuel well offshore prior to entering restricted waters or traffic lanes.


Comments (1) -

What has the photo of the River Princess got to do with California?  Have there been any near-grounding or near-collision incidents as a result of one of these loss of propulsion incidents?

Nathan Dalleska |     7/26/2011 1:11:08 PM #

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