American trade unions hit out at plans for new US Virgin Islands flag

News of the creation of an American open registry to be run out of the US Virgin Islands has not gone down well with a host of local maritime trade unions.

Splash reported last week on the plans for the new Caribbean flag to be run in partnership with the Northeast Maritime Institute (NMI), a private maritime college based in Massachusetts, which has previously overseen the running of the Dominica registry.

American labour organisations have been quick to hit out at the plans.

Top officials from six American maritime labour organisations issued a release yesterday opposing the creation of the open registry.

“Open registries exist so that shipowners can increase their profits by avoiding the same rules, regulations, tax obligations and manning requirements that attach to a national flag fleet. This latest effort is nothing more than an exercise in labor arbitrage designed to generate registry fees and to enrich foreign shipowners at the expense of American workers and America’s national interests,” the letter states, arguing that the creation of a second flag would decimate America’s national flag fleets to the point that they are no longer able to provide the requisite military security and logistical support.

The letter’s authors called on politicians and regulators to reject any suggestion that United States Virgin Islands-flag vessels be treated as if they are US-flag and US-crewed vessels for any purpose or for any program.

On the rationale for the new US open registry, a document by its backers takes aim at the established biggest names in the flag business.

“Fifty percent of the ships that traverse our international waterways are registered in just three jurisdictions – Panama, Liberia, and the Marshall Islands – where loosely enforced regulations and lack of due diligence and oversight has created enormous risk to the U.S. and global shipping industry and facilitated illicit activity on the high seas,” a report from the NMI’s Center for Ocean Policy and Economics states, adding: “The U.S. has traditionally supported the top three open international flag state regimes; however, they have since grown too large for true compliance oversight and lack the desire to provide genuine global law enforcement services. Many open international flag states have knowingly or unknowingly enabled much of the illicit and unsustainable practices seen on the high seas today. In some cases, flag states have turned a blind eye to further restrict the disruption of these practices, running contrary to the U.S.’s strategic interests. The long-term results are plainly visible in the supply-chain dysfunctionality that has occurred over the last year and other unruly behaviors by state actors that run contrary to a transparent and rules-based international order on the high seas.”

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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