Flags of Convenience

Flags of Convenience


Shipowners have almost unlimited freedom to choose the way in which they operate their vessels - including the choice of flag. Cheap registration fees, low or no taxes, relaxed operational requirements and freedom to employ cheap labour are among the reasons why many shipowners choose not to register in their own countries or under traditional flags.

However, a Flag of Convenience (FoC) ship is not simply one that flies the flag of a country other than that of its owner's home country. When declaring a register as a FoC, the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) will assess a number of factors, including a flag state's ability and willingness to enforce international minimum social standards on its vessels, and the safety and environmental record of the register.

The ITF believes there should be a genuine link between the real owner of a vessel and the flag the vessel flies, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In many cases, FoC registers are not even run from the country concerned - the Liberian register, for example, is administrated by a company in the USA. In other situations, landlocked countries such as Mongolia have set up a shipping registry.  


FoC registers often have poor safety and training standards, lower living and working conditions, and they place no restriction on the nationality of the crew employed - leading to problems and communication difficulties in emergencies. FoCs often dominate the lists of port state control detentions, and are frequently involved in cases of poor pay and unpaid wages for seafarers. In the post 9/11 world, there are also concerns about the security of FoCs and their potential to be abused by terrorists, smugglers and pirates.


Nautilus International continues to actively support the ITF's campaign against FoCs, because of their poor track record on safety, working conditions, training and the enforcement of international standards. The Union has two ITF inspectors who check conditions on FoC ships visiting UK ports, and also continues to lobby governments and international organisations to eradicate unfair competition based on cost-cutting and flouting global regulations.