The role of a flag state in assisting shipowners to achieve safe and efficient operation of ships cannot be understated, according to John Ramage, Managing Director of International Registries (U.K.) Limited, which administers the Marshall Islands Registry. Speaking at the Motor Ship Propulsion Conference in Hamburg earlier this month, Mr. Ramage said that the shaping of new maritime regulations, in-depth investigations into vessel incidents and accurate round-the-clock technical support all come under a flag state’s responsibility and are essential to promoting safety at sea.
Mr. Ramage pointed out that the object of a flag state investigation is not to apportion blame but to identify the root cause of an incident. This information can then be used to promote the safety of life and property at sea, as well as protection of the environment. The TITANIC, EXXON VALDEZ, ERIKA and PRESTIGE all “gave rise to some fundamental changes in shipping, which are still in evidence today,” he said.
Mr. Ramage acknowledged that individual flag states acting independently cannot decide whether or not new legislation is introduced. “The duty of the flag state at the IMO is more than just participating in the committees and signing conventions. Flag states should have a proactive, permanent delegation, obtaining feedback from the industry on upcoming regulations, which can, if appropriate, be used to modify the convention under discussion.”
It is also important that advice and guidance is available around the clock. “Ships trade internationally and operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he added. “Flag states that provide an infrastructure which allows for a prompt response to any questions or problems which arise during the registration process and during the normal operation of the vessel assist in ensuring trade is not inhibited; if this can be achieved in the same time zone as the operator or the vessel, so much the better.”
He stressed that the technical advice provided by a flag state should be appropriate as well as timely. “An appropriate response can only be achieved by employing suitably qualified and experienced personnel.”
The Marshall Islands Maritime Registry has decentralized its operations to provide customers with 24-hour worldwide service for vessel registration, mortgage recordation and operational matters and has recently decentralized its technical and marine safety expertise. This decentralized network consists of well-resourced offices manned by experienced personnel such as master mariners, bankers, ship managers, crewing experts, class experts, port state experts and ship inspectors, among others.
With a fleet of more than 1,500 vessels weighing in at 37 million gross tons, the Marshall Islands is the world’s fourth largest maritime registry. It is currently white-listed by the Paris and Tokyo MoUs, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard Qualship 21 program.