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Is the ship register or ship registry liable for containers falling off a ship..??

As you may have read, I recently wrote about “Containers lost at sea, why it happens, what to do when it happens and also about What is a ship register or ship registry..

Recent news reports of 83 containers falling off a ship off the coast of Australia in heavy seas seems to have triggered a question in the minds of some people Is the ship register or ship registry liable for containers falling off a ship..??

If you haven’t heard about the incident, you can

  1. Read this article Yang Ming Containership Loses 83 Containers in Heavy Seas Off Australia from gCaptain and
  2. Read this article Plastic, iron and rubbish from fallen shipping containers seen littering NSW beaches from 9News..

When reading the news articles about this incident, I noticed something very interesting in the way in which the general public and the shipping fraternity identify a ship, its markings and the areas of concern.. 🙂

The article from gCaptain who are part of the shipping fraternity reported below

A Yang Ming container ship has lost more than 80 containers overboard while battling heavy swells off the east coast of Australia.

whereas the second article from a local news channel in Australia reported below

Heavy seas hit the fully-loaded Liberian freight ship, YM Efficiency, when the containers fell like dominoes into the water 30 kilometres off the coast of Port Stephens.

gCaptain, refers to the ship as a Yang Ming container ship obviously in reference to the operator of the ship “YANG MING” emblazoned on the side of the ship and the funnel, whereas 9News refers to it as a Liberian freight ship based on the port of registration “Monrovia” visible on the stern of the ship..

YM Efficiency - shipping and freight resource
Source :

While this was just an observation from my side, I suppose it is natural for people to assume that the ship register may have some liability for the containers falling off a ship..

Why this question may be important..!!

Well, the flag state or the state registering the ship (ship register) has a duty among other things to

  • take such measures for ships flying its flag as are necessary to ensure safety at sea with regard, inter alia, to:
    • the construction, equipment and seaworthiness of ships;
    • the manning of ships, labour conditions and the training of crews, taking into account the applicable international instruments;
    • the use of signals, the maintenance of communications and the prevention of collisions
    • that each ship, before registration and thereafter at appropriate intervals, is surveyed by a qualified surveyor of ships, and has on board such charts, nautical publications and navigational equipment and instruments as are appropriate for the safe navigation of the ship
    • that each ship is in the charge of a master and officers who possess appropriate qualifications, in particular in seamanship, navigation, communications and marine engineering, and that the crew is appropriate in qualification and numbers for the type, size, machinery and equipment of the ship
    • that the master, officers and, to the extent appropriate, the crew are fully conversant with and required to observe the applicable international regulations concerning the safety of life at sea, the prevention of collisions, the prevention, reduction and control of marine pollution, and the maintenance of communications by radio.

So, Is the ship register or ship registry liable for containers falling off a ship..??

If we examine the question a bit deeper, particularly in relation to this ship, Liberia is the 2nd largest ship registry in the world in terms of tonnage and it is an Open ship register which is also referred to as a Flag of Convenience in certain quarters..

These FOCs have certainly had some bad press due to alleged flexible to loose maritime safety policies and registration conditions, unfair competition with the traditional registers by avoiding the expenditures needed to maintain safety and labor standards, substantially lower administrative fees which result in lower costs for the ship owners..

In the case of bareboat charters (which is one of the common type of charters for container ships), it is common that the operator of the container ship who is responsible for both technical and commercial management of the ship, can choose the register that they want to flag the ship under..

In such cases, the operator may naturally go for the ship register that offers the best trading advantages, cost benefit and ease of operation.. The ship register is in no way connected to or responsible for the commercial or technical operation of the ship..

The port of registration of the ship has no bearing or liability on the containers falling off a ship unless it is proven otherwise in terms of the ship certifications or lack of maintenance thereof..

I have highlighted some points from Rogers, Rhea, “Ship registration : a critical analysis” (2010). World Maritime University Dissertations. 447 in relation to open registers and their responsibilities when it comes to following the international conventions..

Open registries, like other registers, contain a wide variety of tonnage, of different ages and construction; some vessels are operated by large multinational corporations, like the major oil companies. Some of the most modern ships are being operated under open registers and the more responsible open register States have taken steps to exclude old and aging tonnage from their register.

Panama requires vessels over 20 years of age to undergo a special inspection before the Permanent Certificate of Registry can be issued. Liberia generally requires that vessels seeking registration (or re-registration) are not more than 20 years old and Bahamas generally applies a 12 year age limit.

All the major open registers are parties to the generally accepted international maritime safety conventions and the more responsible registries have a network of worldwide inspectors to ensure compliance. Liberia and Panama even make annual levies on ships in their registers, based on net tonnage, for casualty investigation and international participation.

In the December 2007 UNCTAD annual statistical entitled “Review of Maritime Transport”, there were no generally distinguishing conclusions that could be drawn with regards to the comparison of the safety of foreign flagged versus nationally flagged vessels. In other words, there were no significantly distinguishing differences between the safety records of national and open register ships.

So, couldn’t it just simply be another case of the weather wreaking havoc on a container ship..??

Well at the risk of repeating myself, containers do not just fall off a ship.. While a lot of containers may be lost at sea or fall off a ship due to weather conditions, several instances are man made, such as negligence, container weight misdeclaration, cutting corners to save costs, improper packing of cargo inside the containers, improper stowage planning etc..

containers lost at seaApart from weather conditions, Gard has identified that non-adherence or failure to comply with the ship’s Container Securing Manual (CSM) may be a more common cause of stack collapse..

Stack collapse on board a ship may happen due to the failure to comply with limits for stack or tier weights or stack heights stipulated in the ship’s CSM or due to the misdeclaration of container weights..

All it takes is just one container to start a stack collapse if not properly lashed..

Gard also notes that the CSM itself may not have catered for different stability conditions or the use of non-standard containers, such as high cubes..

Added to this, the sheer scale of the lashing arrangements required on Panamax or larger container ships poses quite a challenge for the ships crew to check against the CSM to ensure compliance..

The larger the ship, naturally the more lashing equipment is required and in some cases in the hope of reducing costs, some ships may cut corners with this..

But also be aware that such maintenance is not an easy task and incidents may also occur due to defective equipment..

Here are some pictures of the YM Efficiency on its way to a dock at Port Botany where the port authority will take the ship in during daylight hours for damage assessment and carry out operations to recover the boxes that are currently damaged and on board..

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Source :


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    • A ship has to be registered SOMEWHERE.. If a ship is unregistered and is operating within the territorial water of another country, it would be doing so illegally with the relevant consequences of such actions resting on the master/ship owner/operator..

  1. Really nice blog with detailed information. Well I think most of such situation are scare in case of big shipping companies. As having a good reputation in the market mostly happen to be due to such safety and long term investment in it.

  2. Hi, I work for a company that provides international courier services in Mumbai and was just wondering what if the cargo gets lost after reaching the destination port. Who is responsible then?

  3. such events are unfortunate at sea . after heavy seas the lashing equipment is getting loose and the non tight lashing is no longer providing the security needed. Very easy then if one tier break due to extreme powers on a loosen steel bar then the whole tier of containers is to suffer .
    of course this hv nothing to do with the registry or operator but with the deck crew
    starting from the top. Is the deck crew enough ?? to follow re lashing during the trip ?
    best regrds

  4. While your question stands whether registry is responsible for falling off the containers, i would like to know about the role of PSCs of maritime countries where the vessel often visits. Meaning if flag state is not upto the mark, PSCs of individual states can hold the vessel till they comply with the condition agreed in international convention.


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