Part 1

Merchant ship, location unknown, burning highly polluting bunker fuel.

Curiously, in the above photograph, the name, registration number, and country of origin are not visible on the stern of the ship, a violation of international maritime law, according to admiralty and maritime attorney Elton Duncan of Duncan and Sevin in New Orleans.

Number six fuel oil — or bunker fuel — fired in steam boilers, powered Royal Navy and all other Allied ships to victory in World War Two. The name “bunker fuel” is left over from the days when ships were coal driven and the coal was loaded into the “coal bunker.” Two new words came into the language from the use of these fuels. If a ship was loading coal, she was “coaling.” Once loading was complete, she left harbor, having “coaled.” The same with oil. While taking on oil a ship was “oiling” and having filled her tanks, she had “oiled.”

But oil, specifically bunker fuel, is what I am writing about now. According to the Warren Group, a forensic engineering consultancy specializing in determining the causes of industrial fires and explosions:

Number 6 fuel oil is a thick, syrupy, black, tar-like liquid. It smells like tar, and may even become semi-solid in cooler temperatures. No. 6 fuel oil, also known as bunk oil, bunker oil, or black liquor, is a petroleum product consisting of a complicated mix of hydrocarbons with high boiling points. It is a “leftover” product of crude oil after the more valuable hydrocarbons have been removed. Manufacturing companies use it as fuel for steam boilers and power generators.

Because number six bunker fuel comes from the “bottom of the barrel” in the oil refining process, it is very dirty and causes significant pollution and carbon dioxide release when it is burned. Over the last fifteen or more years many international environmental organizations have pushed governments to enact laws and regulations prohibiting the burning of number six fuel oil. Success has been elusive for the most part.

[Image courtesy of Marine Insight.]