The Role of the Flag State at a Seagoing Ship is in principle simple. Every ship needs to be registered somewhere. The management of that ships does this registration in a country. This country becomes the flag state of that ship.
With the registration of the ship, that ship will receive a call sign and a radio station license. At this point also the legislation on board of that ship will be the legislation of that flag state.
To make sure the flag state of the ship is visible to everybody there has to be some marking done according the flag state legislation. The home port has to be marked at the stern of the ship and safety equipment, like buoys, life boats, life rafts.
Although the minimum legislation which involves the ships hull and equipment is determined by the conventions which are organized by the IMO and ILO, this will only be legislation on that ship if the flag state have implemented those regulations. If the flag state ratified certain conventions, like SOLAS, then this have to implemented in the flag state legislation also. Sometimes the legislation from a flag is stricter then the conventions. This can be found back in for example fire fighting equipment or life buoys.
Also the normal legislation like for the behavior of the persons on board and the tax is per flag state and thus per ship different.
The legislation outside of the ship are international legislation like navigational laws. Also entering territorial waters of another port state can have influence on the legislation on board of a ship. For example the exhaust gasses produced by the engines has in some regions and port states stricter regulations then the convention MARPOL annex VI.
The minimum regulations from the IMO and ILO conventions became international laws because the majority of IMO members ratified these legislation and put it in their own law system.
So one of the subjects in a convention is to determine when and how a convention will come into force. There are two points to consider, namely the amount of flag states or the amount of
gross tonnage the flag states, who ratified the convention, represent.
Difference between Flag State and Port State
An State is called Flag State when the ships is registered in that country, the ships carries this flag. The Port State is any State with an international port. For example a ship is registered in Hong Kong and is in the port of Singapore. In this example is Hong Kong the flag state and Singapore is the Port State.
Each member (=flag state) from the IMO who is the administration of a port state has to install Port State officers. Those officers will inspect the ship according the international legislation and not according the national legislation.
For example an inspector from the flag state Hong Kong will inspect a ship which is in Singapore according the legislation of Hong Kong. So the inspection is according the minimum regulations of the conventions which are ratified by Hong Kong plus additional regulation of Hong Kong. The port state officer in Singapore will look at all the conventions which are in force from the IMO and ILO. The port state officer will not take the additional flag state legislation in consideration. If for example Hong Kong didn’t ratified one of the conventions, the port state officer still will look at this particular convention, while the flag state inspector will not look at this convention.
Certificate or compliance certificate?
The flag state determines the legislation and thus the certificates which should be on board of a vessel, namely certificates of those IMO and ILO conventions which are ratified by this flag state. In the case that a flag state didn’t ratify MARPOL I, the class society can offer a certificates of compliance. With this certificate the master of captain can show the port state officer that his ships comply with this convention.
This compliance certificate is not mandatory but if the certificate of compliance is not present the master has to convince the port state officer that his ship complies with this convention.
The ship who is registered at a flag who has ratified all conventions will have the following certificates in place:
- safety equipment
- safety construction
- Class Society (not from flag, but mandatory by SOLAS)
- safety radio
- MARPOL annex I (Oil)
- MARPOL annex II (Chemical)
- MARPOL annex IV (Sewage)
- MARPOL annex V (Garbage, not mandatory)
- MARPOL annex VI (Emissions)
- load line
- ISM (for auditors)
- ISPS (for auditors)
- MLC (labor inspectors)
The certificates safety equipment, safety construction and safety radio can be also one certificate called safety certificate. The class and safety construction certificates are similar except for some details. One can not exist without the other.
Inspection intervals of certificates
According the conventions each vessel has to be inspected according a certain time schedule. The schedule is nowadays harmonized, which means that all inspections are in the same time frame. The intervals are mentioned in the conventions.
The validity of the certificate for all certificates is 5 years. The numbers 1-10 are mostly harmonized. In the certificate is the anniversary of the vessel mentioned. This date will always remain the same, even when you change the flag or Class.
The time frame for an annual inspection is 3 month before till three after the anniversary date.
The intermediate inspection is to be held during the second or the third annual inspection. (exception is the Load line convention, they have only an annual survey )
The renewal survey has only a 3 month window before the anniversary date.
The dry docking of a vessel is in principle two times in the 5 years with a maximum interval of three years. One of this dry docking can be a diving inspection if the flag state and class agrees.
The flag state have to issue all the above certificates except the ones that they did not ratify and of course the one which is from the Class Society.
The flag state have to inspect their own vessels. Most of the times they delegate the annual, intermediate and renewal inspection completely or partly to the Class Society. In this case the certificates are most likely also in the agreement package between class and flag state and will be printed by the Class.
The exemptions of a convention can’t be delegated to a Recognized Organization.
ISM, ISPS and MLC don’t use the anniversary date of the vessel and can’t be renewed in dry dock
Flag State: outsourcing the inspection to a Recognized Organization
In the case that surveys and or audits of the Flag State are delegated to a Recognized Organization (this is also mentioned in SOLAS) the flag state need some kind of quality control system.
There is the auditing of the R.O. by the flag state. The flag state inspector can have an additional check of the ship. Another tool are the reports of
the port state control officer.
The control systems like port state control are important for the flag state (as we remember, they are the quality control from the IMO and thus the members of the IMO).
Their reports will end up at the flag state. If the flag state comes to the conclusion that the performance of the recognized society is below standard, the flag state can terminate the outsource agreement
with this recognized society. Of course this will have an high impact as the flag state has to perform the inspections them self. Also the owner will not be very pleased with this arrangement.
The surveyors of the Recognized Organization has the same rights and obligations as the flag state inspector. When the surveyor finds deficiencies, the R.O. has to inform
the flag state. If the ship is not fit to sail meaning it doesn’t fulfill the main requirements of the certificate, the surveyor
have to withdraw one of the ships certificates. In case if a certificate is withdrawn both the flag state as the port state are to be informed.
Nowadays a lot of flag states will announce there list with Recognized Organizations on their website, at least I found several ones.