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UniMarine Lubricants: Navigating choppy regulatory waters

Singapore: Who’d be a shipowner or manager today? Not only are rates still fragile at best, the fact is regulations continue to pile up making day-to-day operations incredibly taxing. Managing complexity is the theme of a new magazine we are launching today, something that Caroline Huot, managing director of UniMarine Lubricants, is passionate about.

“Shipping is so much more complicated in every aspect than just a few years ago,” she tells Maritime CEO. A master is obliged to comply with multiple regulations, she relates, filling out hundreds of reports for many different authorities, while he is also meant to be taking care of the ship, the cargo and the crew.

“A master is running a company called a ship that is an enormous bureaucracy,” Huot, a French national now living in Singapore, quips. “A master joined ships to look after vessels, not to be a paper pusher,” she adds. All the new technology is also confusing and time consuming to get up to speed with.

“Our job,” says the lubes veteran, “is to try to alleviate concerns and challenges.”

This is no easy feat given the complexity that runs in the lube field. Ten years back it was simple, there were basically two types of lube – high and low sulphur. Operators tended to have one grade in their tanks, and drums on deck for the second grade.

Then MARPOL and the emission control areas (ECAs) came along, and lube choices became murky. Universal lubricants seemed a solution, but Huot reckons these do not work in extremes.

As the financial crisis hit, sending shipping sliding, lube suppliers reduced inventories and the number of grades on offer at a time when engine manufacturers had been trying to build, as Huot describes, “less greedy engines” – ones that consume less, are eco and can handle slow steaming.

Further muddying the pool, new regulations arrived mandating the use of marine gas oil (MGO) in ECAs, something that has resulted in plenty of incidents of cold corrosion especially among the newer longer stroke engines.

Nowadays, ships trading worldwide need to carry five different grades of lubes onboard, a far cry from a decade ago. Feed and consumption rates of lubes are different depending on the grade, adding more headaches for hard pressed chief engineers everywhere. For instance, a low sulphur grade has a lower feed rate, so the injection rate must be lowered when using that grade.

“Even if it is an electronic injection it is risky if you make mistakes,” Huot warns.

Of course, with oil majors tightening their belts at a time when so many different grades are required, lube availability is an enormous problem. The availability issue has been magnified with the new ECAs and their 0.1% sulphur cap, which came into force this year. Burning distillates ultimately necessitates the use a specific cylinder oil – SAE 50 BN 25 – which needs to be lifted prior to entry into such zones, and is not easy to secure at the moment.

“At UniMarine,” Huot says, “we believe that aligning OEM recommendations, owners’ choices and practical aspects, like the availability of recommended products, is in the best interest of the shipping industry.”

In concluding she says, “Complexity needs training, understanding, close cooperation with suppliers, and some trial and error.”

This article forms part of our new Fuels and Lubes special magazine launched today. Readers can access the full magazine for free by clicking here.

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