How to Know you are Using the Right Cylinder Oil for your Vessels?

July 29, 2014

Many ship-owners and operators are confused and struggled what is the oil they need for their engine in this region and the fuel type they are burning. Specifically, the difficulty is in choosing the right Cylinder Oil for ships with slow speed, two-stroke engines based on the following:

  1. Engine manufacturers like MAN B&W have developed new very efficient engines with very long strokes; the way the piston is doing in the cylinder liner.
  2. Some 2 -3 years ago ship-owners & charterers have started to reduce the speed of the vessels between the destinations in order to save fuel (this started during the economy slow down / crises when there was also less trading between countries). This speed reduction is called “slow steaming”. This slow steaming means that the piston in the cylinder liner is not only having a long way (long stroke) but also doing this very slowly resulting for the oil to not stick on the cylinder liner long enough.
  3. And in addition the IMO (International Maritime Organization) is implementing in ECAs (Emission Control Areas) new rules for low-Sulpher fuel oil to protect the environment: For low-Sulpher fuel oil one would need also low BN cylinder oil. For high-Sulpher fuel oil we would need a BN cylinder oil.

When you face all these 3 items at the same time, it is very difficult to decide on what is the correct Cylinder Oil for your engine. If you choose the wrong oil, with a too high or too low BN (Base Number), you can damage your engine.
We’ve talked to Swen Sauerberg, owner and Managing Director of a marine lubricant distributor company in the Middle East, Hamburg Trading House and asked him for his point of view.

“Well,” Swen started, “choosing the right Cylinder Oil for a vessel is one of the most discussed and burning question for both suppliers and users in the marine lubricant industry. Engine Manufacturers (OEMs), The Lubricants Manufacturers and their customers the Ship Owners & Operators are facing challenges with the Marpol Annex VI ECAs in America as well as the European ECAs when it comes to choose the right Cylinder Oil.

It is not that the new engine types with super-long strokes are causing the problems, it is more a combination of several aspects like Super-long strokes, Ultra slow steaming, Low sulpher Fuel Oil. Most of our customers have a mix of vessels and trade.”

Swen continued, “For the existing fleet which is no younger than 1-2 years and not having, for instance, the new MAN Mark 8 engines on board burning fuel oil between 1 and 3.5 %, we still recommend the Shell Alexia S4 product as Cylinder Oil.

For customers with new buildings and sailing in ECAs we need to have a close look at their engine type, the way how they are going to operate the vessel (ultra-slow steaming) and the fuel they are burning. This will be done together with the Shell Marine Technical Team.”
“There are technical questions which need to be addressed which will at the end conclude the correct Lubricant, but this is only one problem“, Swen added, “The next comes with the sailing pattern of the vessels. Are they trading in non ECAs and ECAs? Do they need two different lubricants onboard? When do they need to switch over from one to the other? Or can they sail for several days on a high BN cylinder oil (100) in an ECA with 0.5% sulpher fuel?

There is no general answer for each and every vessel/engine / fuel/region. We always recommend sitting with the customer and looking at the correct lubes per vessel per trade. When we say two different lubricants on board means a problem for the ship owners. Because first of all, only few vessels have tanks for two type of Cylinder oil which means they have to carry drums on deck. But space is always limited. “

“One of our customers was once saying to me that they are operating container vessel to carry container and not lubricants drums.” Swen continues. “The other problem is on the suppliers end. Lubricants manufacturers have to produce and store several different Cylinder oils. This makes the operation more expensive as they have to provide additional storage tanks and also on their already heavy utilized barges they need to find additional storage capacity. In addition to that, sulpher regulations are getting even stricter. In 2015 the sulpher cap will be 0.1 % on fuels. This mean the Lubricants Industry has to offer new cylinder oil with even lower Base Number (BN). Additional products will add complexity in the operation and with that the cost.

On the other hand, there is an alternative, to use sea water scrubbers on board to get rid of the sulpher. If you use the scrubber technology you can go ahead with high sulpher fuel oil and high BN cylinder Oil. But scrubbers are taking space on board, they are not coming cheap and frankly I don’t think the industry has enough experience with scrubbers. However, it could be an alternative.”

Mr. Swen concluded, “Being a marine lubricant distributor/supplier, we can only recommend meeting with the lubes supplier that you trust. It is not done with offering a product. Your supplier should know about the various ECAs, the latest legislation and the new engine generation. Only your supplier can support you in finding the right Cylinder Oil for each and every of your vessels. And your supplier should have access to a technical team that can support you on vessel inspections, lubricants analysis and interpretation of the results from inspections and sampling.

All these things are not coming for free. Expertise comes at a cost. So don’t go for the cheapest oil. Make sure that you know that the oil that you are carrying on board is the right one for your engine, the fuels you are burning and the region you are sailing.”

Hamburg Trading House is an authorized Shell Marine lubricants distributor in the UAE. In addition to Shell Marine Products, they are representing Tribomar in the United Arab Emirates for their Oil Management Systems and Tribomar Test Equipment. Hamburg Trading House is focusing on Marine business only offering its customers outstanding services at competitive prices.