Oil spills can cause disastrous long term effects on the environment. For that reason, the United States federal government has imposed numerous regulations on the shipping industry in hopes to protect the environment, and to ensure the responsible party has the resources to pay for any damages. US pollution regulations have historically been defined by the disasters that have preceded them, whether it was the 1967 Torrey Canyon 32-million-gallon oil spill that resulted in the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970 or the 1989 Exxon Valdez 750,000-barrel spill that brought about the most substantial law changes the industry has seen since the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA90).
OPA90 not only increased limits of liability, fines, and penalties, including natural resource damage, but it also placed strict liability upon the discharging vessel’s owner/operator for the cleanup and damages. To ensure the vessel owner/operator has the financial means to pay for this, OPA90 required any vessel over 300 gross tons to obtain a Certificate of Financial Responsibility (COFR) from the US Coast Guard / National Pollution Fund Center.
Who Needs a COFR?
Each and every vessel, over 300 gross tons, is required to have a COFR to operate legally within the Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, waters of the United States. Also, any vessel, regardless of tonnage, that is lightering or transhipping oil in the EEZ of the United States, must have a COFR. According to the National Ocean Service, the EEZ “extends no more than 200 nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline and is adjacent to the 12 nautical mile territorial sea of the U.S .” This designation also applies to territories over which the U.S. exercises sovereignty, like Guam and Puerto Rico.
How to Obtain a COFR?
Although you can apply for a COFR a variety of ways, the easiest is to apply online. You can log on to the USCG website where the entire application process can be electronically filed. Once you have obtained a COFR, you are able to renew, apply for a new or supplemental COFR, and make online payments to USCG. Best of all, an electronic COFR is accessible by regulatory personnel, making paper copies unnecessary.
Why Should You Obtain a COFR?
Although procuring the certificate might seem like a time-intensive process, you won’t risk facing the following penalties if caught operating without one: detainment, denied entry into your destination, fined up to $30,000 daily, and potentially having to forfeit your vessel.