The United States has been ranked number 43 in the official list that ranks the quality of shipping, owing to the less-than-optimal performance of U.S. flagged ships in overseas ports. The U.S. ranks right behind Saudi Arabia and just ahead of Libya on the Grey List, which is a ranking of less-than-the-best flag states.
Officials from the Paris MOU, an organization of 27 maritime administrations across Europe, Russia and Canada, have released the latest White-Grey-Black (WGB) List. The list is based on the total number of inspections and detentions of ships over a three-year rolling time frame.
The Paris MOU uses a complex system of mathematics, based on the results of the inspections, to rank the performance of flag states. The purpose of the Paris MOU is to eliminate the international operation of sub-standard ships through a harmonized system of inspections and control measures by the countries that ships visit.
The White-Grey-Black List ranks flag states by perceived quality ranging from very high quality (the top of the White List) to very high risk/low quality (the bottom of the Black List).
“The White List represents quality flags with a consistently low detention record… Flags with an average performance are shown on the Grey List. Their appearance on this list may serve as an incentive to improve and move on to the White List,” according to a statement from the Paris MOU.
A flag that gets a high-ranked spot on the White List benefits shipping companies because it means their ships will be subject to a less intensive inspection regime as they call at ports. That frees ships to carry on trading. Conversely, ships sailing under a low-ranked flag will be inspected more frequently and intensively each time.
The new list goes into effect as of July 1 this year. Of the 73 flag states on the new WGB List, 41 are on the White List, 18 are on the Grey List and 14 are on the Black List.
The United States ranks 43rd, which puts it in second place on the Grey List, right behind Saudi Arabia and just ahead of Libya. There were 206 inspections of U.S.-flagged vessels between 2016 and 2018 and nine ships were detained.
Last year, according to the Paris MOU database, U.S. flagged ships racked up a variety of deficiencies in areas as diverse as ship safety management, electronics, oil record books, cleanliness of the engine room, other health protection issues, lifeboats, fire safety, hull damage and in a wide variety of other areas. In total, last year, U.S.-flagged vessels inspected in the Paris MOU area had 62 deficiencies and one ship detention for radio-related deficiencies.
At the top of the White List was the Isle of Man. In second place was the Bahamas, which was followed by Singapore in the third spot. France and the United Kingdom took fourth and fifth spots respectively.
Scraping the bottom of the Black List was the Republic of the Congo. Marginally less bad was Togo, which was beaten into third-from-bottom spot by the Comoros Islands.
Top, or bottom, of the class…
The Paris MOU also ranks classification societies, which are organizations that have technical engineering and safety regulatory functions. Ship owners/operators can enter their vessels into the register of any classification society they choose, provided that the classification society will allow the vessels onto their register.
Classification societies play a very important role in the safety regulation of shipping as a ship without a class-certificate will not be able to get maritime insurance. It is also a condition of insurance policies that ships maintain entry into a classification society. So a ship that somehow loses its existing class-certificate (such as, e.g. the society revoking it) will immediately be without insurance.
A ship that calls into port without a valid class-certificate or maritime insurance policy will be detained by the local authorities.
Among the top-ranked classification societies, according to the Paris MOU, are the American Bureau of Shipping, DNV GL, the China Classification Society, Lloyd’s Register, Bureau Veritas, Nippon Kaiji Kyokai and the Korean Register of Shipping.
The lowest-ranked classification societies are the Columbus American Register, the Shipping Register of Ukraine, the Panama Shipping Register and the International Register of Shipping.
International maritime law… how it all works
Articles 91, 92 and 94 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea require countries to establish a system of ship registration and they require ships to be registered in a country somewhere. A ship is entitled to the flag and nationality of the country that it is registered with. The law of the flag state largely applies to, and onboard, the vessel when it is at sea. Yet, and conversely, when the ship is in the territorial waters of another country (for instance, when it is in port), then, largely, the rules of the port state apply. There are some exceptions. The combination of flag state administration and port state control regulate the conduct of ships at sea and in port.
In the 1970s there was increasing concern that internationally-trading ships were sub-standard in terms of safety and environmental cleanliness. After a series of sinkings and consequent pollution, the port state control system was established with the creation of Paris MOU. Maritime inspectors from the host country board foreign-flagged ships to check that all is well. In that way, the port state control system acts as a check on flag states.
There are several other MOU administrations around the world including Tokyo MOU (Pacific), Acuerdo Latino (South and Central Americas) and the Indian Ocean MOU, among others.