WORLDWIDE – It is a regular occurrence for countries offering flags of convenience (FOC)to be roundly criticised, primarily in the case of bulk freight carriers and tankers which have the potential to cause devastation should anything untoward happen to them.
In the past week several prominent voices have been raised, particularly in the US, following the ever increasing levels of piracy, with some declaring they are fed up with policing the world’s oceans on behalf of mariners who travel under flags considered by many in the shipping industry as unable to manage their own tonnages properly or at the least indifferent to the fate of the ships for which, as tax earning states, they hold some responsibility.
Following the release of a US Coast Guard report on the Deepwater Horizon tragedy the association responsible for many of the world’s merchant sailor’s employment needs, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), has issued a statement supporting the Coast Guard’s stance and adding its weight to the piracy debate. The union association says:
“The ITF applauds the Coast Guard's focus on what happens when a flag state fails to oversee that its vessels comply with ISM and other international minimum standards. When rules and regulations are or become lax, conditions can deteriorate into confusion and chaos. This was seen aboard the Deepwater Horizon when it was off the Gulf Coast of the United States last year. It was not registered in the United States which has a rich maritime history, but instead with the Marshall Islands which lacks a strong regulatory regime.
“In addition, international maritime organizations such as the ITF see such dangerous examples daily off the coast of Somalia, the Gulf of Oman, where 40% of the world's oil supply originates, and in the Indian Ocean, as pirates count on such poor conditions to raid and capture under-crewed, under-prepared vessels and crews and poorly maintained vessels sailing under runaway flags. Piracy obviously pre-dates runaway-flag shipping, but the very same FOC system that arguably led to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy also is hampering international efforts to fight back against the modern version of at-sea terrorism. Without runaway flags, the vital task of ending piracy would be immeasurably easier as traditional maritime States would seek to protect their nation’s respective assets.”
There is nothing new in the arguments put forward by the IMF and others but the two differing scenarios, one a sudden and catastrophic loss, the other a slow but persistent and debilitating sickness, bring the inattention of states willing to profit from a cut price service into sharp focus.