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Parker Kittiwake’s cat fines victory


Lloyd's List Global Awards 2016 judges' comment: "We believe it has the potential to help significantly reduce the incidents of expensive engine damage."

Fuel quality has been a real headache for shipowners and operators over recent years. And as environmental legislation has become increasingly widespread, the challenges associated with catalytic (cat) fines have been more keenly felt.   

Since 1 January 2015, MARPOL Annex VI has required ships travelling in ECAs to adhere to a 0.1% sulphur cap. Since, so far, only a small number of ships have installed scrubbers or converted to alternative fuels such as LNG, the majority of the global fleet are using low sulphur fuel oil (LSFO).

As a result more distillates are being taken from the oil, and more refining is required. To do this, however, more catalysts - or cat fines - have to be used. Consequently far more of them are being carried over into the end product used on vessels. 

For more than 30 years, Parker Kittiwake’s in-house team of research scientists have been providing engineers with products that enable them to gain vital insights into the health of engines and machinery, enabling rapid and informed decision-making on critical operational matters. As the cat fines challenge had created an obvious market need for a diagnosis tool, the team set to work and developed the Cat Fines Test Kit. 

'Timely action to minimise the likelihood of damage' - Walter Woodage, General Manager at Norbulk Shipping

As one of those scientists, Dr David Atkinson, explained, “Using a simple pre-mixed chemical bottle test, which detects the presence of cat fines in a representative sample of fuel oil, engineers are able to identify the presence of abrasive and potentially damaging components in the fuel oil before it enters the system.” 

With these changes in fuel quality, the advent of onboard testing for cat fines has provided real, tangible benefits for shipowners and operators. Or as Walter Woodage, General Manager at Norbulk Shipping, put it in October 2015, “[Our engineers] can now take timely action to minimise the likelihood of damage, avoiding the associated costs and challenges if damage occurs.”

Despite leading main engine makers MAN B&W and Wärtsilä specifying fuel with a maximum of 15ppm cat fines to be used in their engines, the ISO limit remains much higher. 

Larry Rumbol, Parker Kittiwake’s Marine Condition Monitoring Manager, has seen the results of cat fines damage many times. As the first point of contact for many Parker Kittiwake clients, he knows first-hand the frustration, inconvenience and unprofitable downtime that it can cause.  

Contact us about our Cat fines Test Kit

Ships’ crew often have no idea about the purity of the fuel they use

“Ships’ crew often have no idea about the purity of the fuel they use,” said Rumbol. “In many bunker contracts, for example, the commonly used ISO 8217:2010 standard allows a cat fines content of up to 60ppm despite major OEMs’ guidance to the contrary. And with refiners reluctant to absorb the additional costs involved in supplying fuel at the recommended level, cat fines are here to stay.”

To eliminate cat fines, effective filtration, purification and fuel management is required. Parker Kittiwake has long advocated proactive condition monitoring as an integral part of maximising operational efficiency, and it’s a view that shared with the International Union of Marine Insurers (IUMI). According to its statistics 40% of hull claims are machinery damage and they make up 30% of claims costs. 

Yet though progressive damage and foreign object damage have crept into marine cover as maintenance, many insurers believe that there is a legal argument that such damage is avoidable and thus not a covered fortuity. 

Gavin Friend, Parker Kittiwake’s Business Unit Manager, has seen the statistics and knows only too well what’s at stake. “Claims have been identified in the range of USD 300,000 to USD 1.5 million,” says Friend. “Insurers are increasingly insistent on enforcing compliance with the guidance they issue on maintenance practices. By having a continuous stream of data to refer to through simple tools such as the Cat Fines Test Kit, shipowners can not only identify the early warning signs of potentially catastrophic damage, but will also have the evidence they require to demonstrate to their insurer that they have taken every step to mitigate the issue, thereby safeguarding their financial claim.”

Launched to the market in October 2015, the Cat Fines Test Kit has already proven itself popular with the market with companies such as Norbulk Shipping already reaping the benefits of adoption. In addition, a year on at one of the most respected awards within the international shipping and maritime industry, Parker Kittiwake’s work in relation to cat fines was publicly recognised for its practical success and enormous potential at the Lloyd’s List Global Award for ‘Engineering Innovation’. 

As the judges commented, “Impurities in ships’ fuels have become a serious hazard for the industry, so the development of an easy-to-use on-board testing kit was welcomed, and we believe it has the potential to help significantly reduce the incidents of expensive engine damage.”

This victory is a true testament to Parker Kittiwake’s knowledgeable and passionate team. A year ago, the detection of cat fines in fuel oil was only possible by obtaining a fuel sample, which was then sent for laboratory analysis. Today, owners and operators have access to a simple and reliable test that identifies the presence of cat fines in minutes, safeguarding against these highly abrasive particles that have proven such a stubborn menace to vessel engines. A victory in every sense.

Contact us about our Cat fines Test Kit