De-bunkering: product or waste?

De-bunkering is the removal of fuel from a vessel that was meant to be used for sailing. In some cases this bunker fuel must be classified as waste, while in others it can be regarded as a product.

The specific situation determines whether and, if so, where in the supplier-transporter-shipowner-user chain it is regarded as waste matter or a product. This, in turn, determines which regulations apply to the bunker fuel. The Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (Inspectie Leefomgeving en Transport) (ILT), which monitors compliance with these regulations, explains how it assesses each situation below.

Return of a product

In the following situations, ILT categorises de-bunkering as the return of a product.

  • A bunker supplier has delivered bunker fuel to a vessel in the Netherlands, but has delivered a larger volume of fuel than agreed on. The vessel's owner does not want or is unable to pay for the extra volume. A part of the fuel supplied is offloaded.
  • A vessel is chartered for use within EU waters, but the charter period expires. The owner of the vessel does not want to take back the vessel with the fuel oil present in the fuel tanks. This fuel oil must therefore be pumped out of the chartered vessel, and offloaded and sold separately.
  • A product is delivered that does not meet the desired specifications, e.g. high-sulphur fuel oil instead of low-sulphur fuel oil. The high-sulphur fuel oil is therefore offloaded.
  • A vessel comes from outside the EU and has come to the end of its charter period. The owners want the vessel to be delivered without bunker fuel.
  • A sea-going vessel needs to be sent to the shipyard because repairs have to be carried out, e.g. to the fuel tanks. The fuel (not fuel residues) must be pumped out.
  • A vessel arrives from outside the EU with high-sulphur fuel oil. Once it arrives in the Netherlands, it receives new orders: it is to remain temporarily in EU waters. The high-sulphur fuel oil must be removed because of the regulations applicable in the EU. Instead, the tanks must be filled with low-sulphur fuel oil which meets SECA requirements.
  • A sea-going vessel is running on bunker fuel that is not suitable for use in colder waters. The vessel is now bound for a port in, for example, Northern Europe. The bunker fuel with a high pour point (summer grade) is replaced by bunker fuel with a low pour point (winter grade).

Please note that in all these cases, the category of 'return of product' only applies if no irregularities are detected in the bunker fuel.

Indication for waste

Below is a list of situations in which ILT categorises bunker fuel as waste. This is the case if the bunker fuel contains any of the following:

  • waste matter
  • banned substances, such as PCBs or PCB-containing oil, freons or brominated flame retardants (POPs regulation)
  • higher than permitted levels of organic halogens ((Organic Halogen Content of Fuels Decree (Besluit Organisch Halogeengehalte van Brandstoffen))
  • substances not permitted under the MARPOL Convention, e.g. non-petroleum derivatives such as coal tar, lignite tar and creosote oil

Even if none of these substances are present, the fuel may still be classified as waste. This is the case if any of the following situations applies to the supplied bunker fuel:

  • it could endanger the safety of the vessel
  • it could have a negative impact on the machinery
  • it could be harmful for the crew
  • it could cause additional air pollution