VLADIVOSTOK, September 27 (Itar-Tass) — Seafarers’ unions of East Asian countries on Tuesday began a week of fighting flags of “convenience.” At the major ports of the Pacific coast of Russia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, union activists will check at sea vessels carrying such flags the observance by ship owners of sailors’ rights to decent wages and social protection.
At Nakhodka port on Tuesday, the Far Eastern regional organisation of the Seafarers’ Union of Russia (SUR) checked the Silvana coal vessel with a Chinese crew and the STL Maya coal ship with sailors from Burma. Both vessels sail under the flag of Panama and are owned by companies from Taiwan and Japan. Chairman of the SUR Far Eastern regional organisation Nikolai Sukhanov said that the wages of Chinese seamen are $600 a month, and the Burmese sailors are paid only $350. Meanwhile, the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) requires from ship owners to pay ordinary crewmembers no less than 1,950 dollars a month.
Sukhanov asked the captains of both coal vessels to contact the ship owners and inform them about the ITF requirements to observe the seafarers’ rights to decent wages. If this requirement is not met, then at the next ports of call the Silvana and Maya STL ships may be met with protest actions of the dockers’ unions activists that are members of the International Transport Workers' Federation.
Checks of ships flying the flags of convenience, behind which Russian ship owners unwilling to comply with the ITF requirements are hiding, are also underway on Tuesday at major ports of Japan, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan. If violations at ships belonging to Russian companies are exposed, this will be reported to the Far Eastern regional organisation of the Seafarers’ Union of Russia for taking appropriate measures to ensure the rights of seafarers.
The term flag of convenience describes the business practice of registering a merchant ship in a sovereign state different from that of the ship's owners, and flying that state's civil ensign on the ship. Ships are registered under flags of convenience to reduce operating costs or avoid the regulations of the owner's country. The closely-related term open registry is used to describe an organization that will register ships owned by foreign entities.
The term “flag of convenience” has been in use since the 1950s and refers to the civil ensign a ship flies to indicate its country of registration or flag state. A ship operates under the laws of its flag state, and these laws are used if the ship is involved in an admiralty case.
The modern practice of flagging ships in foreign countries began in the 1920s in the United States, when ship owners frustrated by increased regulations and rising labour costs began to register their ships to Panama. The use of flags of convenience steadily increased, and in 1968, Liberia grew to surpass the United Kingdom as the world's largest shipping register. As of 2009, more than half of the world’s merchant ships are registered under flags of convenience, and the Panamanian, Liberian, and Marshallese flags of convenience account for almost 40 percent of the entire world fleet, in terms of deadweight tonnage.
Flag-of-convenience registries are often criticized. As of 2009, thirteen flag states have been found by international shipping organizations to have substandard regulations. A basis for many criticisms is that the flag-of-convenience system allows ship owners to be legally anonymous and difficult to prosecute in civil and criminal actions. Ships with flags of convenience have been found engaging in crime and terrorism, frequently offer substandard working conditions, and negatively impact the environment, primarily through illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. As of 2009, ships of thirteen flags of convenience are targeted for special enforcement by countries that they visit. Supporters of the practice, however, point to economic and regulatory advantages, and increased freedom in choosing employees from an international labour pool.