Flags of Convenience

Under international law, the country whose flag a vessel flies is responsible for controlling its activities. However, many countries are generous in permitting the registration of vessels to fly their flag for a few hundred dollars, without requiring a close connection between the vessel to be registered and the country itself. The country has little or no capacity to bring about effective enforcement of its laws over the vessel and tends to ignore any offences committed.

Such “flags of convenience” are used by some fisheries companies to avoid some of the more difficult regulatory requirements of regional fisheries organizations, as the flag States are selected as non-members. Franz Fishler, former EU Commissioner for Fisheries, describes this as "the scourge of today's maritime world".

Instead of the skull and crossbones, Greenpeace considers "pirates" as primarily those fishing vessels that fly flags of convenience (FOC). Vessels servicing FOC fishing vessels at sea (for resupply or transporting fish to market) are also pirate vessels as they ensure that FOC fishing vessels can continue to fish without restriction. Greenpeace-Dodging Rules.  

Flags of convenience greatly reduces operating costs for vessel owners, as they can avoid paying for fishing licenses, onboard observers, vessel monitoring systems or catch documentation systems. Under these State flags, vessel owners can also avoid regulations and laws on aspects of life at sea such as insurance, training of crew, and purchasing safety gear, which tend to cost a lot of money.  EJF Campaigner Duncan Copeland explains why they must be banned. How FOC works.

So what could we as individuals do to help this cause?  Increasing awareness about FOC to the general public could be a good start. Promoting the use of black lists for IUU vessels and pressuring to increase cooperate and control measures by port states and flag states could help regulation. Contributing to the OECD High Seas Task Force, which published practical recommendations for preventing and eliminate IUU fishing on the high seas. Also, working with legitimate and responsible fishing companies that contribute to plans of action, such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) International Plan of Action on IUU Fishing.

By: Raghda Al Mulhim