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Contaminated bunkers

Do you recall the Houston bunkers saga from 2018-19? Hundreds of vessels experienced mechanical failures due to contaminated bunkers. Reportedly many lawsuits were filed in US against suppliers. Decisions in VL8 Pool v. Glencore [2021] and Curoil v. Trafigura [2020] indicate which way US courts are likely to lean in such cases.

VL8 contracted with Integr8, who arranged for bunkering through Glencore. Few days into the voyage, the ship lost propulsion due to sticking and seizure of fuel-injection systems. Detailed testing revealed presence of various fatty acids in fuel. Glencore relied on the widely worded exculpatory clause denying all liability. The court agreed. Though VL8 alleged damage was caused by Glencore’s intentional misconduct, it could not be proven.

In the other case, Curoil purchased fuel from Trafigura. Sale contract required product to be tested by an independent inspector and result would be ‘final & binding for all purposes’. Fuel met ISO 8217 specs and delivery was taken by Curoil. They later supplied it to various vessels. Upon getting complaints, Curoil did detailed testing & found fuel was off-spec. Court sided with Trafigura who relied on the quality determination clause. It also remarked that Curoil could have negotiated different terms.

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