Contaminated fuel has damaged and clogged engines on hundreds of oil tankers and shipping vessels around the world, creating costly delays for shippers.
The source of the contamination has not yet been identified, but bad fuel has been traced back to production in the Gulf of Mexico and has shown up in Singapore.
Bad fuel is loaded onto tankers, mixed with other fuels and moved through numerous middlemen before it’s used in a ship’s engine. The complex process and lack of documentation makes tracking the origin of bad fuel difficult, Reuters reports.
Ports in Panama and the Dutch Antilles in the Netherlands have also disseminated contaminated fuel, according to Hellenic Shipping News.
The bad fuel has caused problems in 200-300 ships. The widespread issue has led to leaders in the shipping industry to call for stricter regulation of the marine fuels sector. The marine fuels market is international, though, and no single agency is in charge of regulating the whole sector. Individual national governments usually leave the regulation up to the market within their own boundaries, according to Reuters.
The fuel problem comes as the shipping industry is preparing to transition entire fleets to comply with changing fuel standards set by the United Nation’s International Maritime Organization (IMO). The IMO ruled in 2016 that ocean vessels operating in countries in the United Nations must switch to burning low-sulfur diesel fuel.
The price of oil may skyrocket up to $400 a barrel in the coming years as the standards set in and petroleum suppliers struggle to meet the new demand.
“The economic collapse I predict will occur because the world’s petroleum industry lacks the capacity needed to supply additional low-sulfur fuel to the shipping industry while meeting the requirements of existing customers such as farmers, truckers, railroads, and heavy equipment operators,” Philip Verleger, a senior adviser at the Brattle Group, wrote in a July analysis. “Quite simply, low-sulfur diesel fuel or gasoil is … essential for twenty-first-century economies, governments, and militaries to function.”