The Origin of a Standard

The publication of “On the Origin of Species” in 1859 proved to be a watershed moment in history, in that it laid the foundations for modern evolutionary biology as we know it. However, the idea put forward by Darwin “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change” has not simply limited itself to the natural world but has been carried into all aspects of modern life. Evolution, adaptation and reinvention are all vital in today’s ever changing society with the shipping and bunkering industries being no different.

The release of the revised ISO 8217 specification on 19th March 2017 is the latest development in a process that originated with the work conducted by John Lamb and has subsequently encompassed a vast array of technical and legislative changes.

The ISO 8217 standard as we know it came into being in 1987 as a result of the need for greater controls in relation to marine fuels. The earlier BSMA and CIMAC fuel specifications provided the framework for the first ISO 8217 standard which has grown and developed as fuels have changed.

The ISO 8217 specification is specifically designed to reflect the changes in the industry with one eye on what we may expect moving forward. This being the case it offers the most up to date constraints with regard to quality of product available and gives a greater degree of protection to fuel purchasers.

However, if this is indeed the case why do we still see so many transactions being made based upon earlier versions of the ISO 8217 standard, particularly the 2005 revision? The bunkering industry does not have a mystical capability to withstand the inexorable march of time, so why does it appear to be stuck in a time warp and seemingly reluctant to leave behind a standard that was created 12 years ago.

Former British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, is credited with the famous phrase “a week is a long time in Politics” and if that is indeed true, then 12 years in the bunkering industry must represent the passing of Aeons.

It is plain to see, simply by looking at the statistics, that somewhere in the region of 75% of all samples tested by Intertek ShipCare are still bought, and therefore tested, in accordance with ISO 8217 : 2005. This figure becomes even more significant if we think about the range and type of fuels being used today compared with those in 2005. We have seen the introduction, and subsequent removal from the bunker supply chain, of fuel grades such as the 1.50% and 1.00% Sulphur fuels for ECA compliance. We’ve seen the use of 0.10% Sulphur fuels in EU ports and latterly in all ECAs across the World. This particular step has seen the introduction of a huge range of new ULSFO products and the wider use of distillate fuels that are not typical of what many would consider to be a “good old fashioned gas oil”.

This being the case how can the 2005 version of spec still offer the appropriate level of protection to owners / operators using these “newer” fuel types. The short answer would have to be – it can’t.

As previously noted the 2017 standard has been specifically created based on experiences in recent years and the amendments reflect feedback from owners / operators using the new ULSFOs and distillate products. Development of legislative change has also played its part and as a result has been responsible for one of the more significant changes from the 2012 spec. The inclusion of Distillate FAME grades which allow the inclusion of up to 7% FAME by volume – consistent with the limits applied for road going diesel in Europe – is a bold step to ensure greater availability of compliant product for ECAs.

The increased limit applied to “de minimis” (up from 0.10% to 0.50%) for standard distillate grades also shows progression based on experiences garnered from the use of distillate fuels containing low levels of FAME.

Similarly, the inclusion of reporting requirements for cold flow properties are as a direct result of problems being experienced when using greater quantities of fuels with a higher paraffin content which have not been stored under appropriate conditions.

Other significant changes include the rewording of the general requirements of fuel as a direct result of the changing composition of fuel products on the market currently.

The changes made as any standard evolves can often be complex and confusing, but in an effort to provide a degree of clarity an accompanying FAQ document has been produced by the Fuels Working Group within CIMAC. This has been provided to give a comprehensive overview of the new standard, the changes from the 2012 revision and an idea of what buyers can expect when purchasing against this version of ISO 8217.

All of these things give us one very clear message, this is a standard for the here and now. This is a standard that is designed to be used and although we certainly won’t eradicate the use of previous versions of ISO 8217 the need to embrace this latest version is abundantly clear given the changing landscape of the bunkering industry.

As famous the novelist and historian, H.G. Wells, once said “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”