Many member states emphasize that it must be debunkered at the first port of call, but IBIA claims that in reality this may not always be possible. This specific subject was discussed during the 6th meeting of the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR 6), which agreed on a standard IMO format for a Fuel Oil Non-Availability Report (FONAR).

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The FONAR will become a part of a comprehensive set of IMO guidelines for consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit, and will be sent for approval by the Marine Environment Protection Committee in May (MEPC 74).

The FONAR mandates a ship to provide detailed documentation to prove why it knowingly has taken on board fuel oil that surpasses the MARPOL Annex VI sulphur limits, standing at 0.10% or 0.50%.

The ship must also document that it has made every effort to obtain compliant fuel oil, while it can also claim that operational constraints and worries about the quality of the compliant fuel oil available made it take an alternative, non-compliant fuel.

The latter is considered as a 'loophole by some, but IBIA notes that it is key to note that such concerns would have to be thoroughly documented and a ship would have to specify steps to mitigate its operational constraints.

It is difficult to imagine a scenario when a ship might choose to use a non-compliant heavy fuel oil in lieu of a 0.50% compliant marine distillate or fuel oil blend due to operational constraints, unless it can convincingly document that the compliant fuel available would be unsafe to use

IBIA explained.

In addition, the idea that a FONAR would a 'get out of jail free' card is misunderstood, as it is a mechanism for vessels to self-report non-compliance. Port State Control would also be expected to consider it as a mitigating circumstance and may not penalise the ship. Nonetheless, the ship will still have a deficiency as it remains non-compliant. The more non-compliances a ship has in its records, the more the chances are that the ship will be inspected more frequently.

In addition, the repeated use of FONARs could also result in suspicion of abuse and thus more frequent investigations of the ship.

What is more, another unclear situation is the way that a ship would address a bunker delivery note (BDN) that says the fuel is compliant, but its test programme results clearly suggest it is not. FONAR does not cover this situation, as the vessel thought it had been supplied compliant fuel oil.

Another area of work, according to IBIA, would be how to reflect FONARs on the IMO’s reporting area, GISIS (Global Integrated Shipping Information System). GISI already has a module for reporting non-availability of compliant fuel oil, but improvements can be made, such as efforts to verify the information submitted. Concrete proposals have been called to be submitted to MEPC 74 to address unresolved issues and improvements to the GISIS modules.