Every ship is registered under a flag state which means that they are bound by the laws of governments of that state and there are flag state obligations imposed upon the owner of the ship. The top 10 flag states by registered tonnage are: Panama, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Hong Kong, Bahamas, Singapore, Greece, Malta, China and Cyprus.

While it is shipping companies that have primary responsibility for the safe operation of their ships and the safety and welfare of their crews, the flag state plays a critical role with regard to the safety of life at sea and the protection of the marine environment. It is the flag state that has overall responsibility for the implementation and enforcement of international maritime regulations for all ships ‘flying its flag’. Effective regulation by governments of the technical and social aspects of shipping is therefore vital to ensure safe, secure and pollution-free ship operations and good employment conditions for seafarers.

Most flag states now have a generally reasonable standard of care, but some flags do perform better than others. The International Chamber of Shipping publishes a flag state league table each year, so if you do have the option to choose your contracts by flag, you can try and ensure that you work for more reputable flag states.