By Stas Margaronis, AJOTCalifornia’s new air quality rules which require ocean carriers to reduce emissions caused by the heavy fuel used to power marine engines and switch over to cleaner diesel fuel when sailing within 24 miles of the California coast is resulting in some loss of propulsion (LOP) incidents , according to data presented by the U.S. Coast Guard. Any ship losing propulsion poses a hazard to its crew, cargo, other ships as well as an oil spill hazard if the vessel runs ground or breaks up against coastal obstacles. The U.S. Coast Guard held a Workshop on Loss of Propulsion, which took place at Oakland, California on March 16th. At the workshop, the Coast Guard presented data showing, loss of propulsion incidents with ships off the California coast. Between the years 2004-2008, the LOP incidents ranged from 20 per year to 26 incidents per year. But when the California requirements for switching to cleaner diesel fuel went into effect in 2009, the LOP incidents soared to 67 in 2009 and 54 in 2010. In 2010, the Coast Guard data reported that out of 54 LOP incidents 11 were attributed to fuel switching. Most of the incidents occurred as ships were approaching the ports of San Francisco or Los Angeles/Long Beach. Loss of Power Incidents An April 5th email distributed to workshop participants by John Berge, a vice president with the Pacific Merchants Shipping Association. reports that “about half” of 54 LOP incidents reported to the Coast Guard in 2010 months may be related to the switching over from heavy fuel to cleaner, low sulfur fuel (LSF): “ A statistical review of the LOP incidents over the last 20 months was provided by the USCG. Such incidents only record actual stoppages reported to the Coast Guard and do not include situations with degraded performance, nor would they include incidents that happen out at sea and beyond the reporting criteria established in regulation. Interestingly, although only about 12 (sic) of the 54 LOP incidents were recorded as being directly related to fuel switching or operating with LSF, upon closer examination about half of the incidents were found to be directly or indirectly related to LSF use.” The Berge email reports that California regulations requiring fuel switching are causing mechanical malfunctions in engines as well as human errors which contribute to the loss of propulsion problems: “Although there were attempts to try and isolate root causes behind LOP related to LSF, it was clear that there are a great number of issues that contribute to an increased risk of such incidents and they do not lend themselves to simple solutions. In addition to the mechanical issues listed above, also discussed was fuel incompatibility, clogging of filters and loss of air for starts. Also discussed was the secondary impact of crew fatigue, as ships are finding it necessary to fully man engine rooms while operating on LSF to respond to both the known and unknown problems that can arise. There was a strong sentiment amongst the carriers in attendance that significant resources, including man hours, must be expended to safely operate under such conditions.” Berge’s analysis is only an interpretation of U.S. Coast Guard data, he told the AJOT. Incidents may be on the decline The Coast Guard data shows that between 2009 and 2010 LOP incidents declined from 67 in 2009 to 54 in 2010. These incidents may be on the decline, according to Robert Jackson, an instructor at the California Maritime Academy at Vallejo, California. He has been contracted by the California Air Resources Board to look into the problems: “While most vessel operators are successfully complying with the regulation, some operators have reported operational difficulties that may be related to the use of the distillate fuel. Although the number of vessel incidents appears to be decreasing as vessel operators adjust to the new requirement…” Berge agrees that many incidents are “teething issues” that will decline as