Confusion on the use of manoeuvring fuel in the Panama Canal


The use of maneuvering fuel when passing Panama Canal waters has been stated by the Panama Canal Authorities after a change in their notifications.

Since 2001 the Panama Canal Authorities (PCA) has required ships manoeuvring in the Canal waters, to switch from heavy to light fuel. This requirement was stated in the PCA Notice to Shipping No. N-10 on Operational Equipment Testing. In the beginning of 2017, this requirement on manoeuvring fuel was removed from PCA Notice to Shipping No. N-10 and included in PCA OP Notice to Shipping N-1-2017, Vessel Requirement issued 1 January 2017 with the following text:

29. Maneuvering Fuel

a. Vessels operating on heavy fuel oil shall change to light fuel prior to entry into water bodies under the responsibility of the Panama Canal Authority. Sulphur content in the light fuel shall not exceed the limit set by MARPOL, Annex VI, Regulation 14.1. The outer boundaries of Canal waters are those of the Pacific and Atlantic anchorage areas, as indicated in nautical charts DMA No.21603 and DMA No.26068 respectively.

Requirement 31.a, does not apply to vessels equipped with an exhaust gas cleaning system, nor to vessels operating on a low-Sulphur hybrid fuel type. 

LNG Carriers may opt to use boil off gas (BOG) to fuel their propulsion engines or power generators while maneuvering in Canal waters. However, once this decision is taken, the vessel shall not switch to another fuel type. 

This adjustment in the PCA regulative apparently caused confusion among the operators of the canal, they were in doubt if was possible to pass the canal with the same type of fuel as they had always done. Due to the customer’s concern, PCA issued, on 1 February 2017, a fuel definition in PCA Advisory to Shipping No. A-04 2017 on manoeuvring fuels to avoid any confusion, with the following wording:  

- Light fuel is a distillate marine fuel as classified by ISO 8216-1:2010, and having the specifications detailed in ISO 8217: 2010.

- Heavy fuel is a residual marine fuel as classified by ISO 8216-1:2010, and having the specifications detailed in ISO 8217: 2010.

- Hybrid fuel is a blend product with specifications that resemble some types of heavy fuel oils(HFO), and are designed to minimize the various operational problems presented by the change-over process from heavy fuel to light fuel, while having good net calorific values and complying with statutory environmental requirements. Due to their recent development, hybrid fuels are not categorized within ISO 8217 standard.

However, this definition of fuel types did not provide the needed clarity on which fuels were allowed when passing the Panama Canal waters. Because of several new inquiries PCA finally issued a modification to fuel requirement to resolve the operational issues requested by the customers. The new PCA Advisory to Shipping No. A-15-2017 on Modification to Fuel requirements in the Panama Canal Waters issued 19 April 2017, modifies the use of fuels as follows:

- Vessels with intentions to transit that, prior to transit, need to anchor at the Pacific or Atlantic Anchorages, or vessels that plan to call at the Pacific or Atlantic port terminals, will be permitted to use heavy (residual) fuel to operate their auxiliary engines, boilers and other ancillary equipment during their stay at the anchorage or at the berth. However, these vessels will be required to perform a changeover from heavy (residual) to light (distillate) fuel that is used to operate their propulsion engines prior to entering Canal waters. 

- Vessels that opt to burn heavy (residual) fuel in their auxiliary engines, boilers and other ancillary equipment, as described in the above paragraph, shall change over to light (distillate) fuel operation, at least two (2) hours prior to the scheduled pilot time for their Canal transit. Vessels will be deemed ready for Canal transit only when the changeover to light fuel has been completed and are operating only on distillate fuel.

- Vessels that arrive at Canal waters with the sole intention to visit either the Pacific or Atlantic port terminal and will not transit, may be allowed to proceed to and from the port terminal on heavy fuel, including the main propulsion engines. These vessels will not be subject to the fuel changeover requirement stated in Notice to Shipping N-1-2017.  

These new and modified requirements should bring the needed clarification to the use of manoeuvring fuel when passing the Panama Canal waters. If members are still unclear, please contact BIMCO.

For further information visit 

Karin Petersen
By Lars Gullaksen
in Copenhagen, DK


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