This is a certificate from the port-health-authorities that the ship is without infectious disease or plague on board and therefore permitted to enter the port and to allow people to board and disembark. One of the conditions that must be met before a ship is considered to be “ready” to load or discharge and thus to allow laytime to commence is that it must be “legally ready”. This includes permission from the port health authorities. In the old days (and perhaps in some ports even today) permission could be obtained by a lengthy process at the “quarantine anchorage” or similar waiting place in the port or even at the berth while waiting for the port officials to come on board. This led to delay and the master could not give notice of readiness thus triggering off the counting of laytime. Now, free pratique can be obtained in advance of the ship’s arrival, by the port agent, and communicated to the ship by telecommunication (sometimes called “Radio free pratique“). When the vessel arrives, the master may have to prepare and issue a “Maritime Declaration of Health“.
Charterparty clauses refer to this requirement before notice of readiness can be given, especially when a berth is not available in a berth charter. It may first be required for Notice of Readiness to be given when the ship has arrived at the berth. However, if the berth is unavailable, the master may give notice of readiness “Whether in Free Pratique Or Not”. This is abbreviated to “WIFPON”.