The oil tanker behind the ecological disaster off the Spanish coast is yet another ‘Ship of Shame’ flying a flag of convenience. The ageing vessel that broke in two is the Bahamas flagged, American-classed, Prestige, which is Greek owned by a company that may or may not be registered in Liberia, and chartered by a business that could be Russian or Swiss.

Flag of convenience (FOC) ships are flagged in tax havens like Panama, Liberia and the Bahamas to avoid scrutiny, labor and safety regulations.

Often registration is only a matter of a fax, with no proper inspection of the ship.

Documentation can also be fraudulent like that exposed by a British journalist who registered a non-existent vessel under the name of a known terrorist under the Cambodian flag of convenience over a fax machine earlier this year.

In recent times two Australian vessels (the Yarra, now Stadacona, The River Torrens, now the Pacific) have been registered under the Bahamas flag of convenience as a cheaper, but dangerous option. A third vessel, the Wallarah, is now flying the Tongan flag of convenience on Australia’s coastal trade.

‘This latest disaster just goes to show that the [Australian] Federal Government policy of promoting FOC shipping on our coast is just asking for trouble,’ said Maritime Union of Australia National Shipping Campaign Co-coordinator Sean Chaffer. ‘We’ve had a series of near misses this year. Next time we may not be so lucky.’

In September, the 50,000-ton Filipino bulk oil carrier, the Aegean Falcon, ran aground on a pristine part of the reef near Wednesday Island in the Torres Strait, the oil and coal carrier Doric Chariot was grounded in July, the ANL Excellence the same month and the Bunga Teratai Satu in 2000.

Reprinted from the Communist Party of Australia’s publication, The Guardian.