For those of you that have been in yachting for a while, you’ll know all about the flag states. But for those that need an introduction, this is essentially the ‘nationality’ of the yacht. For example, if it is registered in the Isle of Man, the yacht will be governed by the laws of the Isle of Man, so as you can imagine, it’s a relatively important decision for the owner to make, not to mention the fiscal implications of the country that they choose.
The flag state holds a lot of power because they can govern the legislature and regulations that are likely to influence the yacht and international maritime issues. As early as the Roman Greek empire, flag states have played a role, often being selected for protection and benefits for that specific port when it came to trading. Obviously, these days, the more important issues such as regulations, tax and general standards dictate how flag states are chosen.
What were once known as “open registers”, which back in the day were chosen for their trading advantages, are now known as “flags of convenience” which are generally laxer with their regulations, standards and often have sanctions to trade in contrabands and dangerous goods. Additional points that attract ship owners to these registries is the ability to hire crew of any nationality, freedom from tax & fiscal control and the mere simplicity of the registration procedure.
However, what’s in the interest of the owner, is not necessarily in the interest of the seafarer. Fortunately, the majority of yachts tend to register with the red ensign group, which are a group of British Shipping Registries which are well known for their high standards and strict adherence to rules and regulations that provide safe work environments for seafarers as well as the protection of the marine environment. SOLAS, the IMO, MARPOL, the STCW and other conventions also contribute to these objectives. The red ensign group, along with any registries of the Paris White List, are registries under which you would be wanting to work. The Paris MoU Annual Report gives an extensive list of registries ranked in order from quality to poor performance flags.
With your HOD, Captain and DPA all being points of contact for any contentious issues onboard, the flag state is also responsible for seafarers that are working under its jurisdiction and are not to be ruled out when issues onboard arise. As with their responsibility to protect seafarers, so it is the responsibility of the seafarer to report any incidents to the flag state. Failing to do so not only skew any reporting but also has a knock-on effect to potential flaws in registration and protection of seafarers in the long term, so it is important to take this responsibility seriously.
Flag states are considered a bit of a weak point when it comes to the protection of seafarers, as they are one of the highest authority figures to go to. There is work being conducted to illuminate ways in which to improve the situation, however, there is very little action that can be taken to ensure flag states are taking every measure possible to oversee the good of the maritime industry. They like to remain diplomatic with other flag states and IMO sanctions have many legal and fiscal effects that make it an unattractive solution. Not to mention the numerous different regulations within the commercial sector that they need to oversee which is time-consuming and requires specific expertise which can be a strain on resources. This brings us back to the point of taking every action as a maritime professional to work together with the authorities towards creating improvements, which includes the reporting of incidents.
There are many organisations that can also assist seafarers in need and can facilitate communication in difficult circumstances, namely Nautilus, the PYA, The Seafarers Rights International (SRI) and it’s important to make use of these organisations and the flag states to strive for better conditions in the maritime industry throughout.