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It is a known fact that off-specification or contaminated bunkers can disable vessel engines, endangering vessel, crew, and cargo on board and giving rise to significant losses for all parties to the maritime adventure.
The supply of such bunkers has plagued the industry for some time, with the bunker contamination episodes in Houston in early 2018 and Singapore in 2022 being two recent instances.
Besides the presence of contaminants which can create problems for the safe consumption of bunkers and cause damage to the propulsion machinery, the carriage and consumption of bunkers with a low flashpoint presents an entirely separate safety hazard.
Typically, bunkers with a flashpoint below 60˚C are deemed unsafe.
The usage of marine fuels below 60˚C is already prohibited under the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (“SOLAS”).
However, until now, there has been no specific provision within SOLAS against the supply of such bunkers. This lacuna has been the subject of discussion at IMO sub-committees for some time.
Regulation 4.2.1 of Chapter II-2 of SOLAS
After due consideration of the lack of any regulatory framework in the bunker industry to control the supply of such fuels, recent amendments to Regulation 4.2.1 of Chapter II-2 of SOLAS have been introduced.
These amendments are expected to come into effect on 1 January 2026.
The amendments aim to ensure that the bunkers are safe by requiring that:
1. The flashpoint is to be determined in accordance with ISO standard 2719:2006 and the test laboratory has to be accredited with ISO/IEC 17025:2017.
2. The bunker supplier must provide to the ship receiving bunkers:
3. Where a bunker supplier has been found to have supplied bunkers below a flashpoint of 60˚C, the contracting state is required to notify the IMO and other contracting states.
4. The contracting state would also have to take “appropriate action” against the bunker supplier. The amendments do not specify what this action should be, so it is left to the contracting state to decide. Taking Singapore as an example, bunker suppliers could face fines and have their bunker supply licences suspended or cancelled.
Although some years away, it would be advisable for bunker suppliers and other stakeholders in the bunkering industry to prepare in advance for these amendments, reviewing their practices and ensuring that their bunker delivery notes will fall in line with the new requirements due to take effect in 2026.