‘Standard’ survey reveals non-standard approach to IMO 2020

With IMO’s sulphur cap now just days away, what can shipowners and operators expect when their vessels arrive in different port state jurisdictions? Will compliant fuel be available and will there be a uniform approach to dealing with violations?

Thanks to the Standard P&I club, I can tell you the answer to the second question: it is ‘No’, and I find it ironic that it is a ‘Standard’ Club survey that has shown just how non-standard port states will be.

The club contacted its local correspondents and asked each of them the same set of questions. I don’t know how many it contacted, but it published the feedback from seven of them on its website on 18 December: Brazil, China, Denmark, Norway, Panama, Spain and Sweden.

I am not going into all the details of their replies – you can find those by following the link above – but the variations underline one of my longstanding disappointments about global enforcement: there is no forum for port states to agree on a common approach. Unlike flag states, which enforce conventions they have debated and agreed at IMO, port states can do pretty much what they like.

These are the questions that the Standard Club asked:

  1. Will compliant bunkers be available in your jurisdiction?
  2. Which government body or organisation issues fines for sulphur violations?
  3. What is the estimated potential value of fines?
  4. Is there a possibility of criminal action for sulphur violations?
  5. Can a ship be detained for violations? If so, will a club LOU be accepted to secure its release?
  6. Is it possible to appeal fines?
  7. What contingency measures are available for ships carrying non-compliant fuel?

Availability is not expected to be a problem, but what about fines for non-compliance? In Brazil, they could be up to US$490,000; in China, up to just US$14,000. Sweden has not yet decided how much its fines will be, but they “may be high to deter non-compliance”, the club’s correspondent reported.

On the other hand, at least Sweden will only fine you; “there are not expected to be any criminal repercussions”, its feedback reassures, while all the other states may well treat non-compliance as a criminal act under some circumstances.

But you can appeal, surely? Don’t bank on it in Panama, where “administrative fines are generally unappealable” or Spain, where “it is possible to appeal fines, but success is unlikely.”

If you have non-compliant fuel on board, don’t go to Panama, where “there are limited options for ships to debunker non-compliant fuel.”

My point is a simple one: if there is such a diversity of responses among just seven states, it will be a complex task for superintendents and engineers to plan global voyages, at least until they become familiar with the procedures at their regular ports of call.

Is this what IMO delegates intended? In many cases, it is the same people or national authorities that serve as both flag state and port state officials, so it must be obvious to them that global regulation can only be simplified by a consistent global response. Decide whether violations are criminal acts, whether fines are to be levied and if so how they will be set and have them applied consistently.

I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness whenever I make this argument. But if you agree with me or – better still – are a regulator who could help make this happen, email me with your thoughts now.

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