Sunday, May 27, 2012

How to make money on hazardous waste

A fantastic story below from China, of all places, on a topic that affects us all seagoing engineers at one time or another, most of the time we don't realize until its too late. I thinks its the big dirty secret of the bunker industry, and well worth noting, especially for those dealing with fuel oil on a regular basis, as far as our health is concerned.

This reminds me of Trafigura's handiwork and Glencore, all part of Marc Rich's empire. Glencore is a majority shareholder of Chemoil, one of the world's largest supplier of bunker fuel.

THE HAGUE, May 18 (Xinhua) -- Dutch Marine Police organized a large-scale inspection for oil companies' illegal practices of blending heavy fuel oil with hazardous substances in the harbor of Rotterdam in May.

"During three days, we checked whether 30 vessels had the correct documentation. In 12 cases, documents were forged, or the environmental law was violated," Hans Tuinder, head of the Criminal Investigation department for the Marine Police, told Xinhua.

Over 22,000 vessels are bunkered in the Netherlands annually, taking in around 13 million tonnes of fuel in total. The port of Rotterdam is a major trading location, the source of around 88 percent of all bunker fuel.

A study conducted by the scientific institute CE Delft last year showed some ocean-going vessels were bunkered by fuel oil contaminated with hazardous waste materials.

Fuel oil "naturally" contains a variety of hazardous substances in high concentrations. These are substances present in the crude oil feedstock from which the fuel oil derives from and they end up in a concentrated form in the residue during the refining process.

But some oil companies' illegal practices make it worse. Instead of taking their waste material to a recognized waste processing company, they blend those materials in fuel oil, which substantially lowers their cost.

"There is strong evidence that many ships blend their waste material with heavy fuel oil. That is very lucrative for them because you not only don't need to pay for delivering your waste material, but also will even get paid for the blended oil," said Marine officer Tim Tichelaar.

The practices will not only cause serious damage to ship engines, but also will pose health risks to staff members and residents in surrounding areas, study showed.

But it is "extremely difficult to get hold of these illegal activities" due to the lack of relevant legislation, Tichelaar told Xinhua.

"The law doesn't prescribe which waste materials are allowed in the fuel oil. So the only thing that is clearly prohibited is to blend the waste materials without the interference of an approved waste treatment plant," Tichelaar said.

Eelco Leemans, director of the North Sea Foundation, found it peculiar that the Dutch government doesn't organize a large-scale sample check to detect the composition in the oil.

"I think this is partly because the interests are too big. The authority of the port of Rotterdam is probably too scared that bunker vessels will turn to other harbors in Europe," he said.

So when it comes to environmental care and fuel quality, most companies operate according to their own standards. According to Ab de Buck, co-writer of the CE Delft report, "the situation at independent oil traders is unclear; these companies are the least transparent of all."

Although some regulations do exist internationally, they are not satisfactory, he said.

"The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has laid down standards for bunker fuel. But these standards only set maximum limits on fuel sulphur content, which is just a small part of the emitted particles of waste material," he said.

Pictures from various internet sources

Thursday, May 24, 2012

OETC phase out blowback makes an impression

I have a small tidbit of news on taxes.

Coming home the other day, at the Vancouver Airport, I ran into Jean Crowder, my local Member of the Canadian Federal Parliament (MP). She was on the same flight to Nanaimo as I was, so I introduced myself, and to my surprise, she remembered me from our previous meeting, almost four years earlier, regarding my "Taxes for Canadian Seafarers Project".

After exchanging some pleasantries, I brought the tax thing again, and she proceeded to mentioned the extinguishing of the Overseas Employment Tax Credit (OETC) by the current Conservative government - read more. She mentioned that the federal NDP was opposing this move. She further stated her disbelief in the steamrolling of policy not aligned with Conservative goals, whatever those truly are.

I was happy to hear her comments on the OETC, in particular her expression that she was surprised at the number of foreign going seafarer in her electoral area, South Nanaimo - Cowichan. It was nice to hear that we had made our voice heard, and that we had a stronger than expected impact. Very encouraging - not that it matters to Harper's Cons - but still encouraging.

Monday, May 21, 2012

News "deja vu"

Sorel Tracy on the St Lawrence
We finally made it down to our anchorage off of Sorel-Tracy, just east of Montreal. Unfortunately, we did not have internet access, much to my chagrin. I resorted to going on small boat rides, frequently pestering the locals, to get my connected fix for the day. As it turns out, the only coffee shop in town closes at 5 pm, a serious criminal offence in BC I might add. I was "forced" to go to the local pub for access. Unfortunately, I did not get to to do my usual blog and website updates as other matters came up. 

Now, I am finally back home, and somewhat settled into the home life; thinking I should really do a post. Well, what to talk about... let see what the interwebs have to offer; BC Ferries facing more criticism as one of their ships is pulled from service on one of the busiest days for them, due to various mechanical problems, which seem to creep up by the hour. Another MSC ship is in trouble; this time an on board explosion and taking on water, off San Juan. Still nothing new to report from the Costa Concordia investigation; but salvage is set to get underway shortly.

The news are like "deja vu"; perhaps its groundhog day? Really, it must be reporter's day off since the above is as constant as the tides!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Piracy in graphics

Piracy is out of sight out of mind for most people, but it remains a major problem to worldwide trade and a very specific and real trauma for seafarers and shipowners. The fine folks at have put together a couple of infographics, visually summarizing the scope of the problem. Check them out.

They are large files, so be patient in downloading. For more information on Piracy you can also check out the SOS (Save our Seafarers) website.


Monday, May 07, 2012

STCW 2010

The International Shipping Federation (ISF) and the International Chamber of Shipping does a great deal of admirable work for seafarers. On their website you will find a multitude of resources. In particular there is a pamphlet that describes the impacts of last year's IMO convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) held last year in Manila. The results are known as the Manila Amendments, or STCW2010.

One of the major impacts, especially for sailors in North America, is the hours of work and rest; a provision already in full force, since January 2012. Yeah, really, like we need to tell employers that 14 hour work day are too long. Sorry, I diverged there... There are numerous other impacts on us seagoing types, the pamphlet highlight them, check it out.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Chemical Alley life

So we finally got some cargo orders and proceeded to Sarnia, Ontario, arriving early in the morning. We overshot the downtown part of Sarnia, and are waiting for the refinery to allow us to load. During my past visits to Sarnia, the people have always been nice, very friendly and accommodating. Sarnia, however has a nasty reputation as being Chemical Alley, having a richly polluted environment, from nearly a century of petrochemical processing in the area.

On our trip up from Hamilton across Lake Erie, past Detroit, to our current berth, up river from the bulk of the plants in Sarnia, we've encountered an abundance of natural life. Of course the time of year helps, but we've had a some opportunities to "connect" with nature.

For instance, yesterday I came down to the engine room and found a water bowl, and some barley on top of the generator. Seems the Third Engineer had a found himself a fine feathered engine room assistant. Probably drawn to the lights of the ship as we sailed at night, a bird was in the engine room, flying around, from the shaft tunnel to the generator; another bird was in the Cargo Control Room.

Of course we used to dealing with "nature" - the ER intake fan screens are always covered in a thick layer of flying insects lots of "life" there. Then, yearlong, there is a abundance of fatten spiders, enough so to make even non phobic people nervous. It is very strange how spiders like tankers. 

This morning, we are treated to a fine display of mothering skills, a mother duck with 8 or so duckling in tow, swimming around the stern of the ship, while tiny fish school nearby. Stepping off the gangway, we realize that the gangway is nearly on top of a Canadian goose nest. The eggs inside are intact and safe, albeit they're parents sit nearby, anxiously waiting our departure; in the mean time, we moved the gangway.

Then I asked myself, is this really Sarnia, we are upriver, but still... There is a blob of of toxic chemicals below the surface of the river; there are caverns underground, filled to capacity with decades of dangerous byproducts of the chemical process. A thick haze hangs low over Sarnia,  reminding its citizen of the dubious title worst air quality in Canada.

Yet, here we have, despite all our human efforts to the opposite, signs of nature's thriving spirit around us. Cool.

With that pleasant thought in mind, I wrap up this post, its time for lunch; yummy, omelette on the menu.