By Emeka Akabogu
Port states, however, provide an important safety net, and are in the nature of a last line of defence against unscrupulous and/or negligent shipping practices. The idea of port state control recognises that it may not be possible for flag states to fully ensure that international stipulations are met. While the expense of flag state administration is an important factor, the popularity of flags of convenience no doubt renders international shipping more vulnerable to poorly regulated ships.
Most international maritime conventions contain provisions which stipulate inspections of ships by third nations when such ships call at the relevant ports. See Article 5, MARPOL. In addition, the UNCLOS provides authority for states to undertake investigations and institute proceedings against foreign vessels in their jurisdiction in respect of violation of applicable international rules.
PSC Implementation Framework - Port State Control is carried out largely under the framework of regional cooperative agreements, the pioneer of which was the Paris Memorandum of Understanding of 1982. The Paris MOU currently has 27 participating maritime administrations and conducts 24,000 inspections annually. Nearer home, the Abuja MOU entered into force in 1999 and has sixteen participating countries covering the West and Central African Region.
Port State Control MOUs ideally work by selective inspection of ships. This is facilitated by the MOUs central computer data-base for data on ships’ particulars and for the reports of previous inspections carried out within the region. If a ship has been inspected within the MOU’s region during the previous six months and, on that occasion, was found to comply, the ship will in principle be exempted from further inspection, unless there are clear grounds to warrant further investigation.
In selecting ships for inspection the MOU Authorities will give priority to: Ships visiting a port of a State, the Authority of which is a signatory to the Memorandum, for the first time or after an absence of 12 months or more. In the absence of appropriate data for this purpose, the Authorities will rely upon the available data in the information system and inspect those ships which have not been registered in that information; Ships flying the flag of a State appearing in the three-year rolling average table of above-average detentions and delays published in the annual report of the MOU’s; Ships which have been permitted to leave the port of a State, the Authority of which is a signatory to the Memorandum, on the condition that the deficiencies noted must be rectified within a specified period, upon expiry of such period; Ships which have been reported by pilots or port authorities as having deficiencies which may prejudice their safe navigation; Ships whose statutory certificates on the ship’s construction and equipment, issued in accordance with the relevant instruments and the classification certificates, have been issued by an organization which is not recognized by the Authority; Ships carrying dangerous or polluting goods, which have failed to report all relevant information concerning the ship’s particulars, the ship’s movements and concerning the dangerous or polluting goods being carried to the competent authority of the port and coastal State; Ships which are in a category for which expanded inspection has been decided; Ships which have been suspended from their class for safety reasons in the course of the preceding six months.
The importance of flag and port state administration to shipping is best appreciated by noting the potential economic impact of waters infested with unseaworthy vessels. International trade will be at the mercy of greedy and unscrupulous shipowners, while the marine environment and economy could collapse from serial contamination. *Concluded