IMO Confronts Fraudulent Flag Registries


In response to a spike in fake flag registrations, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is seeking to combat “rogue” national flag registries which are operating without the knowledge of governments they claim to represent, according to the insurer Standard Club.

Illegal reports received by IMO

For instance, the global maritime regulator has recently reported that –

  • 73 vessels were unlawfully flying the flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
  • 91 vessels were illegally registered under the flag of Fiji and
  • 150 vessels were unlawfully registered under the flag of the Federated States of Micronesia.

The vessels involved are typically smaller, older cargo vessels, according to IHS.

Registry database of GISIS

To address this challenge, IMO is developing a comprehensive database of registries on the publicly accessible area of GISIS.

The database will contain the names and contact details of the national governmental body/bodies, or authorised/delegated entities in charge of registration of ships.

The database will also include information regarding countries which do not operate a ship registry, be it domestic or international.

IMO recoommendations

Members are recommended to note the following IMO best practices:

  • ensure Flag State Administration contact information is up-to-date
  • prospective charterers should utilise the United Nations (UN) Security Council Sanctions List Search webpage
  • verify the relevant information relating to registries of ships in the ‘Contact Points’ module in GISIS.

Sanctioned ships under scrutiny

America’s shipping sanctions measures have expanded under the Trump Administration, and now cover vessels trading with Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. UN sanctions have ramped up against North Korean commerce as well.

Sanctioned vessels and entities have an incentive to misrepresent their identities in order to continue to trade. Some ships have resorted to turning off their AIS – now a common practice for North Korean and Iranian ships – or falsely reporting their flag registry.

De-flagging allowed on reasonable grounds

The UN Sanctions Committee requires the relevant flag states to de-flag any vessels they have reasonable grounds to believe are involved in activities prohibited by the UN Security Council Resolutions, and other flag states should refuse to register the vessels which have been de-registered for that reason.

The IMO is intending to develop, in collaboration with the UN Security Council, an easily searchable database that would show vessels which are subject to United Nations Security Council Resolutions. The work is expected to be completed in 2021.

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Source: Standard Club, Maritime Executive


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