Academic journal article Houston Journal of International Law

Flags of Convenience and the Gulf Oil Spill: Problems and Proposed Solutions

Academic journal article Houston Journal of International Law

Flags of Convenience and the Gulf Oil Spill: Problems and Proposed Solutions

Article excerpt

I.   INTRODUCTION
II.  BACKGROUND INFORMATION
     A. Registering of Ships
     B. What Are "Flags of Convenience"?
     C. Why Flags of Convenience?
III. WHAT Is THE SOLUTION?
     A. Remove Oil Rigs from the Definition of "Ships"
     B. Eliminate Open Registries Altogether or Make
        Countries Have to Apply to Get Approval to
        Register Ships
     C. The CLEAR Act
IV.  CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

The practice of international registration of maritime vessels (1) has long been a point of contention in developed countries. (2) Developed countries fear that by allowing internationally registered maritime vessels to navigate their waters, and make use of their ports, they will be exposed to serious domestic safety concerns. (3) This fear stems from the fact that internationally registered maritime vessels operating within a state's jurisdiction are not subject to the same regulatory standards as domestically registered maritime vessels. (4) Developed countries fear that because they cannot regulate all maritime vessels operating within their jurisdiction that they could then be exposed to weak regulatory standards found in outside jurisdictions. (5) Countries are forced to merely hope that ships operating near or within their economic zone have been inspected and are in keeping with all proper safety regulations.

With the recent events in the Gulf of Mexico, these longstanding fears have been brought to the surface once again. (6) On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by Transocean Ltd. (hereinafter "Transocean"), and under contract with British Petroleum P.L.C. (hereinafter "BP"), exploded. (7) The explosion killed eleven workers and injured another seventeen. (8) What followed was a catastrophic, three month long oil spill. (9) During the spill an estimated five million barrels of oil, some fifty-eight thousand barrels of oil per day, escaped unimpeded into the Gulf of Mexico. (10) The oil spill finally ceased on July 15, 2010, (11) after disaster response crews placed a large cap onto the well, cutting off flow into the Gulf of Mexico. (12) On September 8, 2010, BP released a 192 page accident investigation report detailing what it found to be the causes of the explosion. (13) The report alleges that BP and Transocean employees failed to correctly interpret a pressure test, and neglected to recognize the ominous signs of the impending disaster, such as a specific pipe, called a riser, losing fluid. (14) The report also alleges that while BP did not listen to recommendations by Halliburton for more centralizers, (15) the lack of centralizers probably was not a cause of the explosion. (16) The blowout preventer, removed on September 4, 2010, had not reached a NASA facility in time for it to be part of the report. (17) In response, Transocean called the report "self-serving" and blamed BP's "fatally flawed well design" as the proximate cause of the disaster. (18)

So, how is this tragic incident related to flags of convenience? The Deepwater Horizon oil rig, manufactured in South Korea, was operated by a Swiss company under contract with a British oil company. (19) Safety and security of the oil rig was not the responsibility of the United States government, but that of the Marshall Islands--a small, underdeveloped island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. (20) The Marshall Islands are designated by the International Transportation Workers' Federation (hereinafter "ITF") as a flag of convenience (hereinafter "FOC") country. (21) The Marshall Islands and thirty-one other countries were identified as flag of convenience states by the ITF's Fair Practices Committee, a joint committee of ITF seafarers' and dockers' unions, which runs the ITF campaign against flag of convenience states. (22) Now, as the government tries to figure out what went wrong in the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, this international patchwork of divided authority and sometimes conflicting priorities is emerging as a crucial underlying factor in the explosion of the rig. …

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