Editor's Note: The following is a response to the "Mariner's Notebook" column by Capt. Kelly Sweeney in the December/January 2016 issue, "Flags of convenience are a disgrace to the maritime industry."
Open Registries are not the enemy to the shipping community that Captain Sweeney would have you believe. The fact of the matter is yes, many shipping companies choose to flag their vessels outside the country in which the company is domiciled. The reason is that there are no corporate tax in many of these Open Registries and is only part of the story. The shipping community is an international community. As such you will have entities worldwide entering the market. The IMO and PSC are there to ensure a level playing field and ensure the consistent safety of seafarers.
1. Open registries commonly have no political battles. Therefore a Liberian-flagged vessel has less to worry about then a U.S.-flagged vessel transiting places such as the Persian Gulf. The sad reality is that even with the U.S. Navy patrolling, they cannot even keep their own sailors from being taken by Iranians, and thus how can we expect them to protect the interest of the shipowner.
2. Most open registries have vigorous inspection programs designed to protect the seafarer and the ship from harm. The example of the Deepwater Horizon is a poor one. The Exxon Valdez was a U.S.- flagged vessel that due to mismanagement created one of the worst oil spill disasters in U.S. history. Was the training of the U.S.-licensed crew ever in question? The answer is a resounding no. The Marine Electric, another U.S.-flagged vessel, reportedly put to sea in an unseaworthy condition. Did the USCG's high standards in existence protect that crew? The Deepwater Horizon inspection under ABS should have been verified by a Flag State Survey. However this is not the case with all open registries. Even the USCG will oftentimes accept the work of ABS during the COI in order to reduce workload and vice versa.
3. In a foreign port, in the event of an emergency or PSC concern, local representation in the form of a Flag State Surveyor is often very timely in their response to requests for assistance to act as a Flag State Liaison.
The fact is that most owners want to work with a registry that is willing to work with them and not throw up bureaucratic red tape. This does not mean that the standards are any lower, only that an Open Registry is willing to assist the owners when there are problems.
Capt. Matthew Bonvento
Capt. Michael DeCharles