A CHANGE in European law means that, with effect from January 1 2011, a new type of gas oil will be required for diesel-powered boats on inland waterways – but that change could create real problems for some skippers.
This comes about because of the UK’s decision to implement the latest EU fuel quality directive, which stipulates that the amount of sulphur present in diesel fuel must be drastically reduced in order to enable the efficient operation of pollutant emission control systems.
Currently, there are two types of diesel available in the UK – road diesel, which is already virtually sulphur-free, and gas oil, (or red diesel as it is otherwise known) which is used in non-road mobile machinery including boats. The change will not affect boats in coastal waters (and by definition that will include boats using the Thames below Teddington Lock) where the original red diesel will still be allowed.
When the change occurs, existing red diesel will be replaced by the new fuel but apparently some fuel suppliers have suggested that they will simply use road diesel containing a red dye.
The problem is that road diesel can also contain up to seven percent by volume of bio-diesel – something called FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester) – and that should be of real concern to boat owners.
The problem is that bio-diesel can cause microbiological contamination unless it is used very quickly – and that means within a period of three months.
So if you have fuel in your boat’s tank and leave it untouched for a long period – say over the winter – then there is a distinct possibility that this microbiological contamination will occur. And that could prove very costly.
A ‘diesel bug’ grows at the boundary where diesel fuel meets water and one of the well-known facets of bio-diesel is that it attracts water.
Adding a biocide to the fuel system might help but it is essential to keep as much water out of the system as possible – and that might mean fitting drain taps to the tank and fuel filters to get rid of excess water on a regular basis.
Boats with older diesel engines (like mine in Terra Nova) will be more susceptible to problems.
A number of agencies are currently involved in discussions to try to resolve the problem – including the Department for Transport, the Port of London Authority and the British Marine Industries’ Federation – along with the major fuel suppliers.
In any event, the bottom line advice to boat owners on the non-tidal Thames is to ask your fuel supplier exactly what kind of diesel he has in his tanks before you put any of it in yours.
Hopefully, the question will have been responsibly addressed by the fuel companies but one is forced to ask the question what the hell do the bureaucrats in Brussels think they’re doing by introducing a new directive such as this without properly thinking through all the possible consequences for the boat-owning public.