Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


David F. Matlin

First Page



This Note re-examines the role and status of flags of convenience in the international shipping arena. The author argues that universal condemnation of flags of convenience or open ship registration is unwarranted from legal and factual standpoints. The Note first examines the significance of ship nationality as a means of regulating conduct on ships when at sea or in foreign ports. This analysis leads into an examination of the methods states use to ascribe nationality to vessels. The author then analyzes attempts to impose "genuine link" requirements in several conventions and questions whether such requirements are legitimate under customary international law. The Note then characterizes the various registration requirements of selected nationalist and open registry states.

The Note next examines the economic benefits to shipowners with a flag of convenience. To attract business, flag of convenience states impose little or no taxes, allow for drastically reduced labor costs, and do not impose the strict safety standards as do closed registry states. The Note then analyzes policy reasons against flags of convenience. Commentators have criticized open registries for being slow in enforcing international agreements aimed to protect whales, prohibit pirate radio broadcasts, and restrict narcotics smuggling. Labor and environmental concern shave opposed flags of convenience because these nations have been lax in imposing the social benefits for the crews and the safety regulations for the ships that industrialized societies require. Several open registry states, however, recently have taken great strides to alleviate these criticisms. The author concludes that, in light of these strides, the poor reputation of flags of convenience has become outdated and unrealistic.