In what news media and maritime experts are calling “the most historic moment for U.S. maritime interests this century,” the U.S. Virgin Islands is set to announce a brand-new U.S. open ship registry.
Ocean-going ships in international trade are typically “registered” with a nation under a specific flag. The list of vessels flying the nation’s flag in the “registry.” Registry is important. The flag-state maintains some level of jurisdiction over the registered vessel regardless of where it travels. The ship may also receive physical and legal protections from its flag-state.
An “open” registry is a specific type of ship registry that allows vessel owners who are not citizens of the country to fly the nation’s flag. Stated differently, with an open registry, there is no existing connection between the ship, her owners, and the flag-state nation.
It is no small secret that there are comparatively few commercial ships flying a U.S. flag in international maritime trade. For example, Matson, a U.S. flag shipping company, holds only 0.2% shares of the world trade market. Meanwhile, the flags of Panama, Liberia, and The Marshall Islands collectively service over 50% of all ships in international trade.
There’s a long list of reasons that ship owners are hesitant to flag their vessels in the United States. The question remains: how will this open registry be any different? The Center for Ocean Policy and Economic (COPE) explains in a white paper that they key advantage for vessel owners under the new Virgin Islands Flag will be physical and cyber protection from relevant United States agencies. By way of comparison, Panama and Liberia currently have no protection agreement in place with key support entities such as the United States Navy.
The term “flag of convenience” is a pejorative term for many of the world’s open ship registries. Some open registries attract vessel owners by offering low taxes, less administrative fees, loose legal regimes, and less stringent safety rules.
Eric R. Dawicki, an executive member of COPE, wants to make it clear that the new U.S. registry will not be a flag of convenience. Registrants will still be subject to United States law. The registry is attempting to lure vessel owners who are already leaning into environmental, social, and governance initiatives.
This is a developing story.
If you or a loved one was injured or even killed aboard a ship in international trade, the last thing you should be worried about is what nation’s laws apply to your potential claims. The Jones Act and maritime law may apply to your benefit, but it is important to consult with an experience maritime lawyer as soon as possible.
Mariner Law, PLLC is a maritime law firm that can help injured engineers, deckhands, seamen, and other crew with claims nationwide. Licensed in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, New York, and Connecticut, the firm exclusively represents mariners who were injured offshore. Call (253) 600-2531 and ask for a free consultation with an admiralty attorney.