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Bunker Fuel Having Hazardous Effects

Posted by Blake Nijs on October 4 at 7:55 AM  Last week while on a road trip through BC, a friend and I took a ferry to Victoria. While on the ferry I talked to one of the employees, the subject turning to what fuel ferries use. After learning that bunker fuel is the main source, I decided to research it. 

Bunker fuel is the left over product from the crude oil refining process. When crude is refined it is heated to different boiling temperatures. This results in different fuels being separated from the crude making kerosene, gasoline, diesel, etc. Bunker fuel is the left over oil and particles from this process, composed of asphaltenes, waxes, and other very large molecules. The residual crude oil is then burned in large ships, leaving behind hazardous emissions[1]. Bunker fuel is the least clean of all other fuels and has contributed to 2.7% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.[2]

All large ships such as container ships, cruse ships, military ships and ferries around the world use bunker fuel. It is expected by 2050 the carbon dioxide emissions could increase by 150%-250% according to the industry’s growth. This alone is extremely detrimental to people’s heath around the world, let alone to our planet. Research has suggested that the emissions from bunker fuel are related to asthma, cancer and heart disease.[3]

There is light at the end of the tunnel though; The Maersk Line in North Asia has successfully completed testing on a new fuel, which has lowered their emissions by 80%. This fuel does not have a developed name yet but has been called lower-sulfur marine gas oil. Since Maersk makes approximately 850 calls to Hong Kong ports, this will greatly reduce the damages they are causing to air quality.[4]

I have to add that this was a voluntary change on Maersk’s behalf, which hopefully will act as a role model for the whole industry in the future. All ships could change over to this fuel, which reduces emissions and in turn helping people and our planet.

[1] Unknown. (2010). Bunker fuels. Retrieved from

[2] Soos, A.S. (2010, April 07). Ships to embrace energy efficiency not bunker fuel. Enviromental News Network, Retrieved from

[3] Unknown. (2010). Dirty bunker fuel banned for large ships in u.s., canadian waters. Enviromental News Service, Retrieved from

[4] Unknown, . (2010, September 13). Maersk line starts low-sulphur fuel in hong kong port . Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation, Retrieved from

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6 Comments so far...

Agreed, what are you thoughts on fixing this problem?

Should the government be responsible enforce regulations? For example the California Regulation that ships cannot burn bunker fuel 24 miles off their coast.

Posted by Blake Nijs on November 3 at 1:43 PM

How could alternative solar energy fuel enormous tankers? The question is, is there enough of this emerging alternative fuel to replace bunker fuel on all the vessels. If so, then I don't see why governments can't enforce a change to a greener technology, unless it is extremely expensive and will put the nation's industry at a global disadvantage.

Posted by Daniel P on November 18 at 9:35 AM

Unfortunately there is not enough alternative fuel to power a tankers, Also the cost related to this would be extreme. The government has taken small steps to reduce the direct impact of these fuels being burnt. As said in my previous comment, the government of California has created a regulation that all ships 24 miles off its coast cannot burn bunker fuel. Although as soon as a ship leaves this zone, it can switch back to bunker fuel. Many other countries have also adopted a similar type of regulation, since there have been proven health impact from these emissions. As of right now this problem is just coming into view for governments and companies, hopefully soon there will be a solution.

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