Risks Involved with Methanol Bunkering

by | Apr 12, 2024 | Firm News, Maritime Law

As the shipping industry seeks cleaner fuel alternatives to comply with stringent environmental regulations, methanol has emerged as a promising option. However, methanol bunkering, the process of refueling ships with methanol, involves specific risks due to the chemical’s properties. This article explores the unique hazards associated with methanol bunkering, outlines the potential risks, and discusses best practices for safely managing these challenges.

Understanding Methanol and Its Properties Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, is a volatile, colorless liquid used widely as a fuel. While it burns cleaner than conventional marine fuels and emits fewer pollutants, methanol is highly flammable and toxic, which presents significant safety and health challenges during bunkering operations.

Flammability and Explosion Risks

  • High Flammability: Methanol has a lower flash point (11°C or 52°F) compared to traditional fuels like diesel, making it highly flammable at room temperature. During bunkering, even small leaks or spills can create flammable vapor clouds that may ignite if they come into contact with an ignition source.
  • Explosion Hazard: Methanol vapors can form explosive mixtures with air. In confined spaces, such as ship holds or engine rooms, the accumulation of vapors can lead to explosive atmospheres that are triggered by sparks from electrical equipment or hot surfaces.

Toxicity and Health Hazards

  • Acute Toxicity: Methanol is toxic when ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. Exposure to methanol can cause serious health effects, including headache, dizziness, confusion, and in severe cases, blindness, and death. Workers involved in methanol bunkering must be protected from exposure.
  • Chronic Health Risks: Prolonged exposure to methanol can lead to chronic health issues, including neurological damage and visual impairments. Ensuring proper ventilation and using personal protective equipment (PPE) are essential to mitigate these risks.

Environmental Considerations

  • Spills and Leaks: Methanol is more soluble in water than conventional oil-based fuels, which means it can disperse quickly in an aquatic environment and become difficult to contain in the event of a spill. Although methanol is biodegradable, large quantities can deplete oxygen in water bodies, posing risks to aquatic life.
  • Containment and Cleanup: Responding to methanol spills requires specific strategies that differ from those used for oil spills. Absorbents and booms that are effective in oil containment may not work for methanol, requiring alternative solutions for rapid response and environmental protection.

Safety Protocols and Best Practices

  • Comprehensive Risk Assessment: Before implementing methanol bunkering operations, conducting a thorough risk assessment is crucial. This assessment should identify all potential hazards and develop strategies to mitigate them.
  • Training and Awareness: All personnel involved in methanol bunkering should receive specialized training on the properties of methanol, the risks associated with handling it, and the emergency procedures in case of spillage or exposure.
  • Use of Appropriate PPE: Workers should be equipped with PPE that is specifically designed to protect against methanol exposure. This includes chemical-resistant gloves, eye protection, and respiratory protection in scenarios where vapor inhalation is possible.
  • Emergency Response Planning: Facilities and vessels that handle methanol should have detailed emergency response plans in place. These plans must include immediate response actions for fire, explosion, and spill scenarios and should be regularly drilled among the crew and port personnel.


Methanol bunkering presents unique risks that require careful management due to the chemical’s flammable and toxic nature. By understanding these risks and implementing stringent safety measures, the maritime industry can safely take advantage of methanol as a cleaner fuel alternative. As methanol use becomes more widespread, continuous improvement in safety protocols and emergency response strategies will be vital to ensure the health and safety of workers and the protection of the environment.

Our experienced lawyers handle maritime personal injury and wrongful death litigation of all kinds and the skills needed to represent the families of loved ones who have lost their lives or those who have been seriously injured as a result of a maritime accident. The lawyers of Spagnoletti Law Firm have handled maritime lawsuits throughout the country.

The experienced and aggressive vessel accident attorneys at Spagnoletti Law Firm can help you understand your rights if you or a loved one was a victim of an accident on a ship. There are strict and short time limits on making claims related to maritime injuries, so please contact us online or call 713-804-9306 or to learn more about your rights.