Transport Canada Issues ECA Fuel Switching Advisory, Warns on Changeover Risks

by Ship & Bunker News Team
Friday May 8, 2015

Transport Canada last week issued a safety advisory for vessels switching fuels for Emissions Control Area (ECA) compliance, warning marine operators to ensure that switching from high to low sulfur bunkers is done carefully in order to avoid propulsion failure, engine black outs, "and/or damage to the machinery."

The federal department pointed out that the transition from HFO to a 0.10 percent sulfur fuel, if not performed correctly, can "jeopardize the safety of the vessel, passengers and crew."

Since January 1, 2015 all vessels operating within the North American ECA, effectively an area 200 nautical miles off the coast of Canada and the U.S., must use a marine fuel with a maximum sulfur content of 0.10 percent by weight, although approved equivalent methods of compliance are also permitted.

In practice ECA compliant fuel is typically a 0.10 percent maximum sulfur distillate (DMA), which is stored and used at ambient temperature, whereas HFO is heated. 

As such, Transport Canada noted a poorly executed change-over "may lead to a rapid fall or rise in temperature with increased chances of thermal shock to the equipment."

Transport Canada cited MARPOL Annex VI, Regulation 14.6, which requires vessels using separate fuels for compliance to carry a written procedure for the fuel oil change-over.

It added that vessel owners and operators must post the procedure in the engine control room and wheel house, and that it "must outline the time required for the fuel oil service system to be fully flushed of all fuel oil exceeding the applicable sulfur content specified by MARPOL, or authorized by permit according to vessel documents, before entering the [North American Emission Control Area] NA-ECA."

Transport Canada also cited recommendations from the US Coast Guard Marine Safety Alert 2-15, including ensuring that fuel oil switching is done outside of busy traffic lanes and the ECA, and that engine and boiler manufacturers should be consulted for guidance and to determine if system modifications or additional safeguards are necessary.

Last year the California Air Resources Board fined 12 companies $476,750 for failing to switch to distillate fuel as part of a separate statewide regulation.