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International ships are often registered in a country quite far from the ships physical location. For example, this ship is registered in Liberia. Wikipedia describes the practice at its flag of convenience page.

From a travellers' point of view, should I care where the ship is registered? What are the practical implications of the ships flag?

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Likelyhood of the ship sinking? Jurisdiction applicable if any crimes occur on the boat? –  Andrew Grimm Feb 10 '13 at 22:16
    
The wikipedia article points it out pretty much. As a 'normal tourist', as it were, it really doesn't matter, unless things go bad, in which case you as a person may not get the kind of restitution you expect. –  Aaron Feb 10 '13 at 22:24
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Ships are registered under foreign flags for a variety of reasons.

  • labour laws. Many countries where shipping firms are at home have laws that make hiring staff much more expensive than would be the case in say Liberia. Work conditions, salaries, etc. would make them uncompetitive.
  • appearances. A Taiwanese firm wishing to do business with mainland China would want to do so through a front company in a third country. In fact for a long time (maybe still) it was illegal for companies doing business in Taiwan to do business in mainland China by PRC law. This caused many airlines to create subsidiaries to handle traffic to one or the other to circumvent this.
  • as you fear, an easy way to get out from under safety and environmental regulations. But that's probably a minor reason as many nations enforce those on any vessel docking in their ports (or even transiting their waters), not just on ships registered there.
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I'd add to that protection against pirates. For example ships flying Dutch flag are not allowed to have armed guards on board. –  vartec Feb 12 '13 at 10:45
    
maybe, though that's rather a regional problem, and this being a travel related site and there's probably few people taking passage on ships sailing around Somalia anyway (or the Malakka area, easier to get a ferry there or charter a fishing vessel) it's probably not really relevant. –  jwenting Feb 12 '13 at 11:21
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