Shipping industry says fuel quality issues threaten fuel safety in New Zealand

Maritime professionals say there is a risk of serious quality issues with New Zealand’s fuel supply if New Zealand’s two coastal tankers are withdrawn from service.

Following the announced closure of the Marsden Point oil refinery, individual oil companies plan to import fuel directly into New Zealand ports by foreign tankers.

Merchant Service Guild National Vice President Captain Iain MacLeod says volatile nature of refined fuel is cause for concern, meaning deliveries can be ‘out of spec’ and not meet local usage standards .

“In November 2021, an imported shipment of jet fuel arrived in Wellington and was found out of specification and rejected. Cargo from Marsden Point was diverted and inventory was replaced with local cargo. Meanwhile, Wellington was low on jet fuel.

Captain MacLeod said New Zealand coastal tankers were available to help quickly with this event, but if New Zealand was dependent on foreign tankers this would no longer be the case.

He says oil companies need to explain how they are going to deal with off-spec cargo without the refinery and New Zealand’s offshore tankers.

“Regional ports do not have the storage capacity to hold off-spec cargo until a solution is found.”

Captain MacLeod says refined fuel from foreign refineries in the northern hemisphere is even more likely to degrade.

“The lighter components of volatiles, including jet fuel, evaporate at a higher rate at warmer temperatures, and a journey of up to two weeks across the equator would increase this risk.”

Captain MacLeod says the shipping industry is urging the government to step in and ensure New Zealand’s coastal tankers are kept in service to protect national fuel security.

The Save Our Tankers fuel safety campaign is made up of the Maritime Union of New Zealand representing seafarers, the New Zealand Merchant Service Guild representing ship’s masters and officers, and the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association representing marine engineers.

A new campaign had been set up to raise awareness of the situation, particularly on the website.

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