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Proven failure to comply with in-force sulphur regulations could result in vessel detention or the imposition of civil penalties; the US Coast Guard may also refer such cases to the Environmental Protection Agency for administrative enforcement or to the US Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.

In its Mission Management System (MMS) Work Instruction (WI), published earlier this week, the USCG Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance (CG-CVC) discusses its approaches to IMO compliance checks and also considers the submission of Fuel Oil Non-Availability Reports (FONAR) and steps to be taken in the case of scrubber malfunction.

The US Coast emphasises that the WI is not legally binding, but rather represents the agency ‘current thinking on this topic’ and, as such, ‘may assist industry, mariners, the public, and the Coast Guard, as well as other federal and state regulators, in applying statutory and regulatory requirements’.

The guidance applies to both compliance checks in 0.10% sulphur emission control areas (the North American ECA or the US Caribbean Sea ECA (which cover the majority of US ports), as well as a few US ports that are now subject to the 0.50% sulphur cap which came into force on 1 January.

The US Coast Guard does note, however, that following the implementation of a carriage ban on high sulphur fuel on 1 March, it may expand its inspection to include the verification of the fuel within bunker tanks.

Under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding, the US Coast Guard and the EPA jointly cooperate in the administration and enforcement of regulation relating to MARPOL Annex VI, and in June last year the two agencies also announced revised FONAR reporting procedures.

The US Coast Guard highlights that in the IMO 2020 transition period 0.50% heavy fuel oil (HFO) may not be available in sufficient quantities to meet industry demand. As such, it says, vessels may be using ‘an unfamiliar grade of fuel that may consist of a mixture of HFO and distillate fuel oil.

‘Further, there is currently no accepted technical specification for such a fuel oil. This has raised concerns in the shipping industry that fuel quality and availability will vary considerably, and, as a result, ships may have problems obtaining and/or burning certain fuel oil.’

The US Coast Guard will continue to enforce ECA requirements as before, and will also review bunker delivery notes and check logbooks to determine whether a vessel is compliant with the sulphur regulations that apply outside US waters.

The agency says it will use standard evaluation and compliance protocols when a vessel is found to be carrying fuel oil that exceeds the 0.50% sulphur limit. When Officers in Charge of Marine Inspection (OCMIs) encounter such a situation they should ‘decide on the appropriate course of action based on the totality of the situation.

‘Accordingly, OCMIs may apply contingency measures that range from allowing the fuel to be retained onboard until the fuel oil may be discharged ashore at a later date to requiring the vessel to offload the fuel oil at the current port.’

If a vessel operator is unable to find low sulphur fuel, notification to the flag Administration should be made and to the relevant U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port (COTP). A shipowner or operator ‘should be prepared to present a record of the actions taken to achieve compliance, including evidence that they attempted to purchase compliant fuel oil in accordance with the vessel’s voyage plan,’ says the agency.

It also notes that it will investigate all reports of non-compliance with Annex VI to determine what actions may be warranted, and such actions ‘may include detaining the vessel and/or pursuing civil penalties.

‘The Coast Guard may also refer the matter to EPA for administrative enforcement, or to the US Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.’

In the case of a scrubber malfunction, the agency says it expects ‘a certain degree of redundancy so that the ship may continue to operate in compliance with Regulation 13 or 14 (e.g. pumps, available spare parts onboard, or alternative arrangements (e.g. Low Sulphur Fuel Oil tanks)).’

It continues: ‘It is highly recommend that companies leverage their safety management system (SMS) to address Annex VI compliance robustly enough to empower shipboard crews to adequately address when issues with method of compliance arise (e.g. scrubber malfunction, fuel oil compatibility etc.) through contingency plans.’


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