Ocean cargo: U.S. Coast Guard gets tough with “flags of convenience”

So-called “Flags of Convenience” (FOCs) have been linked to a wide range of international crime, terrorism, and human rights violations.

By Patrick Burnson · October 22, 2010

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has recently advised that all foreign flagged vessels operating in United States waters are required to be maintained in compliance with United States regulations, international Conventions and other required standards.

So-called “Flags of Convenience” (FOCs) have been linked to a wide range of international crime, terrorism, and human rights violations.

The USCG has stated that it now has procedures in place so that if ships have a history of operating in waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction in a substandard condition, outside acceptable standards, they may be denied entry.

The move will no doubt win the endorsment of the International Transport Worker’s Federation, which has been campaigning against exploitive vessel operators.
“FOCs provide a means of avoiding labor regulation in the country of ownership, and become a vehicle for paying low wages and forcing long hours of work and unsafe working conditions,” said ITF press officer, Sam Dawson.

The safety issue was also a primary USCG concern:

“Over the past several years there have been cases where foreign flagged vessels have been repeatedly detained by USCG Port State Control Officers for significant safety and security non-compliances and substandard conditions,” said spokesmen. “In each case, the vessel’s Flag administration was notified and the substandard conditions were corrected; however, the underlying causal factors for the substandard conditions may not have been identified and/or adequately addressed as would be expected if an effective and properly implemented Safety Management System (SMS) was in place.”

Denial of entry only applies to vessels which have been repeatedly detained – three detentions within twelve months – and if it is determined that failure to effectively implement the Safety Management System (SMS) may be a contributing factor to the sub-standard condition(s) that led to the detentions.

The USCG has also stated that as much information as possible will be gathered before a port state control (PSC) inspection on a vessel with previous history. This information will include: deficiencies, detentions, marine casualties, pollution incidents or marine violations. It will not be limited to USCG inspections, but may include previous PSC results from other port states including detentions and/or bans on the vessel or company.

If it is determined that adequate measures have not been taken to prevent future non-compliance, then a Letter of Denial will be issued to the vessel’s owner and company (listed on the Document of Compliance) informing them that the vessel will be denied entry into any port or place in the United States unless specific actions are completed to the satisfaction of USCG.

The denial of entry will be associated with the vessel by its IMO number and will remain in effect until removed by USCG. Conditions governing a vessel’s re-entry into US waters will be considered on a case-by-case basis by USCG Headquarters in Washington DC.?

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About the Author

Patrick Burnson
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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