Flying the Flag

Imagine if every car owner in the Western Province decided to license their vehicle in Gauteng. Imagine what that would do to the relevant municipal coffers and what impact it could have on their ability to deliver services. Essentially the monies collected from Cape Town vehicle owners would be used to benefit the lives of Gauteng drivers.

It would be crazy to think that we would want to enrich some other jurisdiction – or would it?

What if another town or suburb waived the need for our car to be roadworthy? Or the conditions of our chosen  licensing authority made our lives easier every time we had an accident? What if choosing a licensing authority also meant less taxation; fewer rules of the road or even access to cheap servicing? Now would you consider licensing your vehicle elsewhere?

Now suddenly the idea of driving around with a license plate that bears no relevance to your home address makes sense. Would it matter if you were forced to use Gauteng mechanics every time you required a service? Would you care if Capetonians no longer had access to employment based on this decision?

Choosing a flag – a matter of conscience or convenience?

This may sound ludicrous and you may wonder what it has to do with the maritime industry, but this is exactly what is happening in the world of shipping. As an owner of a ship that trades around the world, you have a global choice of where to license your vessel and many nations have spent time and money on creating Flag States that attract tonnage (ships) to their registry.

Choosing a jurisdiction or a Flag for your ship impacts on the way you manage and operate that vessel. The regulatory and legislative mechanisms associated with each Flag State will have implications on the manning, the financing and even the insurance of the vessel.

As one of the key trading nations on the African continent and with almost 3000km of coastline, you would not be forgiven for thinking that South Africa should have a robust ships’ register. The sad fact is, however, that we lost the last trading vessel on our register towards the end of 2010 and are unlikely to attract any significant number in the near future.

The Safmarine Oranje was the last trading vessel on the SA Ships' Register.

The Safmarine Oranje was the last trading vessel on the SA Ships' Register.

The reasons for the demise of the South African Ships registry are many and relate largely to the way in which some of our key maritime law is structured.

Over and above the obvious loss in potential revenue associated with a robust Ships Registry; we are putting all our youngsters keen to follow a career at sea at a distinct disadvantage. It stands to reason that all seafarers need to complete a portion of their training at sea and the lack of South African registered ships impacts directly on their ability to be placed as a cadet and gain valuable sea time.

Revisiting the car analogy above – it would be like saying all those with Learner’s Licenses from the Western Province would not have access to vehicles to gain practical experience before trying to pass their Drivers’ License because all of the cars in Cape Town were being used by learners from Gauteng as stipulated by the licensing criteria.

It’s certainly not a new debate for the industry, but given the government’s recent proclamations about job creation coupled with a well-documented shortage of seafarers (globally), it’s certainly an area that should continue to be addressed.

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