Flag States and their performance – 2020/2021

news - shipping and freight resourceResolution A.600(15) of The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) became mandatory on 1st January 1996..

As per this resolution all ships needed to be assigned a permanent number called IMO Number used for identification purposes for the life span of the ship..

Any ship over 100 GT irrespective of whether it is a cargo vessel, fishing vessel, passenger vessel etc, has to be registered..

The country where the ship has been registered is called a FLAG STATE.. This registration grants the ship physical and legal protection afforded under that flag/flag state usually applied to vital areas such as safety of cargo and life of those on board the ship..

Flag states have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce regulations upon vessels that are registered under its flag, including regulations relating to inspection, certification, safety, and pollution and a ship owner or operator who registers their ship under a flag must meet the standards set by the Flag State and ensure that national and international regulations are being met..


A nation’s role as a flag state is considered as the first line of defense against potentially unsafe or environmentally damaging ship operations and each time there is a maritime disaster, the flag state’s role and responsibility in avoiding such incidents is often called into question..

flag state performance - Shipping and Freight Resource

As per IMO’s definition, “Port State Control (PSC) is the inspection of foreign ships in national ports to verify that the condition of the ship and its equipment comply with the requirements of international regulations and that the ship is manned and operated in compliance with these rules“..

A simple means of assessing the effective enforcement of international rules is to examine the collective Port State Control record of ships flying a particular flag..

The three principal Port State Control (PSC) authorities are the countries of the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the Tokyo MOU and the United States Coast Guard (USCG).. All three authorities target particular flags on the basis of deficiencies and detentions recorded for ships flying that flag..

The International Chamber of Shipping has released the Shipping Industry Flag State Performance Table for 2020/2021..

The purpose of this Flag State Performance Table is two-fold

  1. To encourage shipowners and operators to examine whether a flag State has sufficient substance before using it.
  2. To encourage shipowners and operators to put pressure on their flag Administrations to affect any improvements that might be necessary, especially in relation to safety of life at sea, the protection of the marine environment, and the provision of decent working and living conditions for seafarers.

The table summarises factual information which might be helpful in assessing the performance of flag States.. As of 2020,. Panama led the flags of registration by dead-weight tonnage with over 7,886 ships registered in Panama..

The data has been tabulated on the basis of below criterion..

  1. Port State Control
    • A simple means of assessing the effective enforcement of international rules is to examine the collective Port State Control record of ships flying a particular flag and also looking at the white and black listed flag states..
  2. Ratification of major international maritime treaties
    • A flag State is required to ratify International Maritime Conventions such as SOLAS and if not, it should be able to provide good reason for not having ratified any of the instruments..
  3. Use of Recognized Organizations in compliance with the IMO RO Code
    • The IMO Code for Recognized Organizations (RO Code) requires flag States to establish controls over ROs conducting survey work on their behalf, and to determine if these bodies have adequate resources for the tasks assigned. The RO Code also requires flag States to submit data to IMO on the ROs authorised to act on their behalf.
  4. Age of Fleet
    • A flag which has a concentration of younger ships may be more likely to attract quality tonnage than a flag State with a high concentration of older vessels but the ICS strongly emphasises that the age of an individual ship is not an indicator of quality, and that the condition of an individual ship is ultimately determined by how it is maintained..
  5. Meeting of reporting requirements
    • A measure of the various reporting requirements concerning the submission of information by flag States to IMO and ILO and the extent to which flag States actually comply with these reporting requirements..
  6. Attendance at IMO meetings & Member State Audit
    • A roll call of Flag States that attend major IMO meetings such as Maritime Safety Committee, Marine Environment Protection Committee and Legal Committee as these states are thought to more likely be seriously committed to the implementation and enforcement of IMO rules and keep abreast of the latest developments..

The ICS has been clear with the purpose of the report when it says

The Flag State Table and its criteria are not intended to be used for commercial purposes or assessments of the performance of individual ships that may elect to use a particular flag.

It is only intended to encourage shipowners and operators to maintain an open dialogue with their flag Administrations about potential improvements, which may be necessary for enhancement of safety and security of life at sea, protection of the marine environment and provision of decent working conditions for seafarers..

The full report can be downloaded from the International Chamber of Shipping’s website..

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