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Politics & Current Affairs

The Human Cost of Flags Of Convenience

Piracy is not the only problem in the complex, multi-border world of modern merchant shipping. Unsafe and abusive ships abound. Do we need a “Save Our Seafarers” campaign?

What is the Latest Development?

Calls for a crackdown on the plethora of unsafe and abusive ships flying flags of convenience. Today more than 60 percent of shippers use this open registry system. Unscrupulous ship-owners can get away with criminal behavior, evasion of prosecution for environmental damage and forcing crews to work like slaves. Some say merchant shipping’s current self-policing is like allowing someone to register a car in Bali so they can drive it in Australia with faulty brakes. 

What is the Big Idea?

Delinquency is too easy with open registries—owners can slip away, unpunished and unaccountable. A partial solution would be for port authorities to pay extra attention to ships registered under notoriously lax states. Perhaps standards would rise in order to avoid this extra scrutiny and costly risk of a ship being detained. And public scrutiny would help. If we boycott food from companies that mistreat their workers, what would we do if we knew more about the sometimes atrocious conditions on the ships that carry the food?


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