Maritime Nations

One of the problems of shipping is its very international character. If one goes back only a few decades, shipowning then was mainly in the hands of a few traditional maritime nations whose costs and standards of living were largely similar.  This meant that crew costs were roughly the same regardless of flag and competition was at a very moderate level. In more recent years many different factors have conspired to disturb the financial picture regarding crew costs causing minds to be bent to the problem of cost reduction with ‘flags of convenience’ the result. There was no single cause. Some say the Americans started it when their domestic wages so far out­stripped the rest of the world that the wages neces­sary to compete with jobs ashore plus the manning levels demanded by the labour unions put flying the USA merchant flag impossible without heavy subsidies.  In consequence, such flags as Liberia were encouraged by even the most respectable shipowning enterprises in North America. Others hold the view that the biggest migration to non-national flags came in the fifties when Greek ship owning expanded at a phenomenal rate but their govern­ment of the day imposed such unsympathetic taxes on shipowning that to this day the Greek shipowning population of London and New York is each probably far greater than that of Piraeus. One cannot overlook the emergence of shipowning in countries not previously considered maritime nations and, of course, the massive fleets that were built up under the flags of the USSR and other communist countries. Competition has now become far from equal with many national fleets being operated as a means to bring in or save foreign exchange and with crew costs being based on local wage scales far below those of the developed countries.  Flags of convenience not only permitted any nationals to be members of ships’ crews but some of them are far from fussy about manning levels and competence.