Fuel Oil Non-Availability Report (FONAR) is primarily a discretionary tool for a Member State to lessen the breach of MARPOL Annex VI, it is not an exemption but rather a self-declaration by owners that a breach has or is about to occur.
IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee ("MEPC") 74 published its resolutions on 20 May 2019 and specifically Section 5 deals with the ramifications of the aforementioned report.
The concerns over non-availability of globally compliant bunkers of 0.5% bear identical hallmarks of the implementation of the ECA zones and availability of 0.1% back in 2015.
There has been much discussion on whether owners may rely on the FONAR due to non-availability of compliant fuel.
However, how it will be applied by each Member State remains to be seen.
The FONAR consists of an immensely detailed questionnaire. Owners who find themselves in breach of Regulation 18 can make use of a FONAR. However, the evidential threshold is high and succeeding on a dispensation or reduction of a fine will depend on whether best efforts were made to:
- Source compliant fuel;
- Source local alternative sources.
That said, even unavailability is not a carte blanche to breaching MARPOL since alternative compliant fuels could have, most likely, been purchased such as 0.1% distillates.
To support a claim that all efforts were made to source complaint fuel, owners will need to furnish exhaustive evidence that a voyage plan was in place, that there were valid reasons for being unable to source compliant bunkers and/or operational issues which would have endangered the vessel had the non-compliant bunkers been burnt.
Owners can be sure that the Port State Control (PSC) inspectors will investigate other vessels which called at a port which allegedly did not have compliant fuel available in order to verify the truth of the statements contained within the report.
The PSC will also look for evidence of any fuel changeovers conducted outside of the jurisdiction of the Member States and whether the vessel had working emission control equipment during its visit.
Interestingly, the PSC will keep record of how many FONARs a vessel and/or their operators have requested in a period of twelve months. Any patterns of non-compliance by a fleet will be found out, sanctioned and prevented from submitting future FONARs.
Stringent investigations are likely to ensue following the submission of a FONAR and the information will be shared between Member States to report on compliant fuel oil supply issues.
Owners should beware that only a small quantity of non-compliant bunkers should be stemmed, if at all, as entering a Member State will result in the entirety of the non-compliant bunkers being debunkered at owners' expense to bring the vessel within compliance.
The new FONAR wording is set out at Annex 1 of MEPC 74.