Ship registration is the process by which a ship is documented and then given the nationality of the country to which the ship has been documented. This registration allows the ship to sail across the globe as it is proof of ownership of the vessel.
Every merchant ship is required by International law to be registered in a country. The country under whose registration such vessels operate is referred to as a flag state whereas the practice of registering the ship to a state different than that of the ship’s owner is known as flag of convenience (FOC).
The ship therefore has to comply with all the maritime rules and regulations put forth by the flag state in accordance with the international maritime rules and regulations.
A ship’s flag state would exercise regulatory control over the vessel and is required to inspect it regularly, certify the equipment and crew, and issue sefety and pollution prevention documents. The organisation which actually registers the ship is known as its registry. Registries may be government run or private agencies.
Examples of a few registries are Indian Register of Shipping and Lloyd’s Register.
A registry that is open only to ships of its own nation is known as a traditional or national registry. Registries that are open to foreign-owned ships are known as open registries, and some of these are classified as flags of convenience. National registries typically require that a ship is owned and constructed by national interests, and at least partially crewed by its citizens. Open registries do not have any such requirements and sometimes their rules are much more lenient allowing subversion of the rules and regulations of the home nation. This is not to say that a flag of convenience is always a bad thing. But invariably, there is an outcome which most of the time isn’t good and quite often it affects the seafarer.
On 7th Feb 1986, the United Nations Convention on Conditions for Registration of Ship was tabled, but till date it is yet to be ratified. The requirements are that at least 40 nations ratify it, and they comprise of at least 25% of the global tonnage. Till date there are 14 nations that are signatories to it.