Safety Culture for Shipping Industry

By Iqbal, Sheikh Muhammad | Economic Review, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Safety Culture for Shipping Industry


Iqbal, Sheikh Muhammad, Economic Review


The flag of convenience (FOC) system is offered by some 29 maritime flags namely Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Burma (Myanmar), Combodia, Cayman Islands, Comoros, Cyprus, Equatorial Guinea, Germany (Second Register).

Gibraltar, Honduras, Jamaica, Lebanon, Liberia, Malta, Marshall Island, Mauritius, Mongolia Netherlands Antilles, Panama, Sao Tome and Principe, Sri Lanka, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tongo and Vanuatu. In addition to these flags there are certain shipping registers whose vessels can be regarded, on a ship-by-ship basis, as operating under a flag of convenience. This system allows substandard ships with substandard wages an conditions to sail under a veil of secrecy and with an almost total lack of accountability.

The government of the world are now paying far greater attention towards FOC system. It is the ease with which the system can be manipulated by criminals and terrorists that has led to a major change in attitude. Furthermore, the recent pollution disasters of the Erika, the Prestige and the Tasman Spirit have highlighted the effective lack of control over shipping standards in the most dramatic way.

The Greenpeace and the conservative organization WWF are seen instrumental to press world government to take action. If they fail to do so collectively, then coastal states or regional groups will impose their own regulations to protect their citizens and coastlines. This will neither assist the shipping industry nor the seafarers.

It is further hearting to note that the United Nations has become active and is openly discussing the need for a "genuine link" between the ship owner and flag State. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has even warned that some states could ban certain foes from entering their ports if they cannot easily trace a ship's beneficial ownership. Seafarers around the world will continue to need protection from the inevitable consequences of this cavalier approach to seafarers lives and the marine environment.

A few decades back the issue of "clandestine seafarers" was debated worldwide. A large number of marine accidents and casualties were attributed to the lack of training and cerification and watch keeping for seafarers. The STCW 1978 Convention has been updated and STCW 1995 Convention is now in force. This has considerably improved the safety standards; yet a number of countries mainly labor supplying countries where their own national merchant marine fleet has greatly shrunk due to adverse Political and/or sociao-economic reasons still have back door entries to provide clandestine seafarers for FOC registry vessels. The Government of Pakistan has still a gigantic task and there is an urgent need for induction of competent, qualified professional technocrats of merchant marine in the existing short staffed governmental administration.

A large number of Pakistani seafarers (officers and rating both) employed on FOC ships have been stranded at foreign ports. Our embassies turn a deaf ear to the sufferings of Pakistani seafarers. The International Trans port Workers Federation (ITF) of which we are an affiliate has taken care of our seafarers in foreign ports and has also made arrangments for their safe repatriation to Pakistan but their earned wages and compensationclaims could not be recovered since the ship has no value and the secrecy of beneficial ownership, non-existence of a genuine link between the ship/ship owner and flag states and above all the governments whose seafarers suffers do not have any mechanism to safeguard their own seafarers carry on being abondoned, their wages don't get paid for months on end and they are often foreced to live without decent food or enough clean water. The worst owners will switch from FOC to FOC due to extreme ease in the option to change FOC registry avoiding vesselsinspections and effective port state control until the ship finally gives up the ghost and breaks down-its scrap value often less than the amount of unpaid wages, while the queue of creditors tries to follow a complex paper chase to the beneficial owner somewhere in the world. …

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