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Naming the ‘Flag of Convenience’ Countries

December 11, 2012

Countries’ serving as flags of convenience for the world’s IUU fishing vessels are frequently discussed in the abstract.  Perhaps its politics, or perhaps it’s just that there are so many of them. This has left me wondering, who are these countries?

Matt Gianni wrote a nice piece evaluating the ‘real and present danger’ of flag states in 2008.  In this he pointed out six countries with flagrant violations and suspect numbers:

According to Lloyd’s Register, three hundred and eighteen large-scale fishing vessels are registered to Cambodia, Georgia, Mongolia, North Korea, Sierra Leone and Togo. Yet based on a review of the information available from relevant regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), none of these countries have any vessels authorized to fish in any of the areas on the high seas regulated by these organisations. On the contrary, fishing vessels from five of these six countries are currently ‘blacklisted’ by RFMOs for having engaged in IUU fishing. The indicators would suggest these vessels may be involved in IUU fishing. It is unclear how the flag States concerned would be in any way able to exercise control over these vessels flying their flags.

You’d generally expect that any vessel registered with Lloyd’s Register would be operating internationally.

Looking at these lists, it seems pretty clear why we don’t go after FOC states all that often.  Would North Korea bow to international pressure?  Would a poor, land-locked Mongolia really care what it’s flagged vessels are doing?  The other countries are pretty clearly low-income countries, with the exception of Georgia.

So, given the economics, it seems there will always be a country stepping forward to offer a flag to an IUU vessel.  So where do we go from here?  Try to change international law to require a genuine link between flag states and their vessels?  Maybe, but international law is hard to change.  Most NGOs and interested countries appear to be going the way of driving up operating costs through closing convenient ports.

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