In Episode 4 of the second series from Nautilus International's podcast Off course: a sideways look at life at sea, we chat with Jacqueline Smith, the maritime coordinator for the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), about flags of convenience (FOCs) and what they mean for the maritime industry.
She explains that the flag on a vessel represents the country where the ship is registered, and why the ITF is calling for a global review of ship registration practices including a clearer definition of a 'genuine link' between a ship and its flag state – a campaign also supported by Nautilus.
'Flag states are supposed to have the control over the ships that fly their flags – it's a little bit of that country floating about the world like an embassy. So, when you go onboard that ship you are covered by that [country's] legislation,' she says. 'Our concern with FOCs is the impact on workers.'
The podcast discusses the inherent inability of various FOC countries to enforce regulations, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic – when seafarers were denied shore leave, refused repatriation and in some cases refused leave from the ship for treatment of serious medical conditions.
We learn how the ITF polices FOC ships not covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) on terms and conditions. She also discusses the work of ITF inspectors, including how they intervene when seafarers are not being paid proper wages, and what they can do to recover unpaid wages or to protect seafarers are not covered by CBAs.
Looking ahead to the next 75 years, Jacqueline predicts that FOCs will likely continue, but hopes there will be more scrutiny into the responsibilities of flag states, and more supply chain disruption investigations.
'They can't just have a nice flag on the back of a ship, it has to mean more than that, and we will be holding flag states more to account.'
This podcast is mandatory listening for anyone planning a career at sea, as it is an informative look at the growth of FOCs, what protections seafarers have, and how the ITF and affiliated unions uphold their rights.