Flag State / Class / Port State Control

I think it is fair to say that most people consider the flag as the most important element representing the safety standard of the vessel. In my opinion it is the Class society that actually governs this aspect during build and operation. A combination of a third tier Class with one of the FOC can indeed make a deadly combination. There are many unheard of Class societies. I have come across a couple that I should not name here. Most of these I presume are on smaller vessels and seldom visit big ports. Not sure, but I think a substantial number of vessels under FOC probably have a IACS society. I think it is also fair to say none of these near misses had the misfortune of a ‘double whammy’ as the Dali. Losing the steering and not able to recover is the most significant failure attributable to the incident.

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Above is partly true as per below. :wink:

Shipowners/Operators Have to Report Damage
The third conflict of interest is one which is practically impossible to solve: the shipowner or operator has to report any possible deficiencies of the vessel which require repair and call upon the classification society to have them surveyed.114
As classification societies depend on this co-operation, they are not a fully independent survey organisation. They cannot survey the vessel on their own initiative, but are dependent on their contracting party. One should be aware of the societies’ importance for maritime safety, but one should not overestimate their possibilities either.

Despite the fact that they aim at minimising sub-standard shipping, they
cannot control their registered vessels at all times. This limits their possibilities. The assistance of the shipowner is necessary, and it is very difficult to imagine a system which is not based on such co-operation. As long as there are shipowners or operators who try to save money by not putting in place safety measures, classification societies will not always get the necessary information as the ship is not constantly under their control.
It is far from ideal that those who must be controlled need to allow the control, and even have to report that they require to be controlled. Still, the schedule for survey activities of a vessel is based on the co-operation of shipowners.

It assumes normal maintenance and repairs. The owners have to be interested in keeping their ships safe and seaworthy, otherwise the condition of their vessel might deteriorate within a very short time. Additionally, there can be a very strong pressure on the
surveyor. Not only that he has to control the vessel in a minimum period of time.

He also has to deal with the representatives of the owners or operators, resist pressure exerted by them and bring to light any hidden defects.115 The classification society may try to increase the ship’s safety, and yet it is reliant on the very people to report defects who themselves might wish to cover them up. With regard to a sub-standard operator, the system can be too lax for these reasons.116 END QUOTE

Above is a fragment of a FANTASTIC book which I highly recommend forYou Sir to read time allowing.

It handles all aspects of the workings of Class Societies and their responsibilities.
The Liability of Classification Societies.pdf (2.3 MB)

Some people do not .See pls the topic on ISM code on this forum . At least one ISM auditor here is contesting such view and it requires rebuttal , time allowing . :wink:
Mean time pls listen to the latest on Flag activities from a Gent that runs Liberia registry , although the topic of the interview is about PSC:

So the claim by some , that flag can do nothing but only company safety culture is importants seems dubious to me.

You seem to have read the recommended book already :joy:

I may be wrong but the only entity that is capable to bring criminal owners/management in line is PSC acting or aping the action of USCG and the legal system existing and practiced in USA .

As they both do not tolerate any effing excuses according to saying I heard once from US master " i do not give a f…k how You do it as long as You do it " . And with this simple sentence I was introduced to so called " American way " of doing things :joy: :rofl: :joy:

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You are essentially correct here. Class societies rely on their customers. Their customers are the shipowners/managers. With competition amongst societies, they can be reticent to apply too much in the way of stringent requirements. In this case you get conditions of class written as “notes” instead. Some societies are also cutting costs by carrying out “remote” surveys which are basically surveys without attendance. They rely on information from the master/company to verify the trouble and clear any deficiencies. Some even do this in case of lost propulsion… my experience is the master generally tells/shows exactly what the company wants them to. Some societies have trouble getting/paying experienced surveyors and therefore have less experienced/cheaper staff, so some are not really familiar with engines etc … and only rely on what the crew tells them. Then in case of engine, not much ability to operationally test at the berth due to limited engine running ability whilst tied up. I expect that some time in the future, a “remote” survey will result in a casualty and IACS etc… will enact rules against it, much like they blamed non-exclusive surveyors after Prestige.
Flags are not much different. They are attending vessels and doing what they can to reduce detentions/deficiencies including attending during PSC exams and taking care of deficiencies in lieu of having PSC write them up.
It helps them reduce deficiencies and ups their standing in the PSC matrix.
I hate to even bring up ISM and external audits …


In principle all IACS members are “non-profit” and organized as “Societies” of their members.
Today’s reality is that they all have established “commercial sections” that is very much “for profit”

A large number of Non-IACS member offer “Class” services (without the pedigree of the IACS members) and unserious “flag states” have sprung up to cater to the bottom rung of shipping companies that do not like being hampered by rules and regulations.

PS>This still DO NOT involves all FOC registers, or all shipping companies that operate FOC ships.

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It is not unusual for Flag States to allow Class to issue certificates on their behalf.

Their customers are also the shipyards.

Q.is there a comercial relationship btw the owners and flag state ?
A.Yes it is

Q.Is there a comercial relationship btw owners and class?
A.Yes it is

Q.Is there a commercial relationship btw the owners and port state ?
A.No there isn’t

Q. who can apply the biggest pressure on rogue owners then?

Q. Can PSC apply unlimited/unchecked pressure on owners?
A. well this depends largerly on the economy of the PSC state

Q. What is the largest econmy in the world ?
A. The United States of America

Q. What PSC can apply the largest unrestricted pressure on owners.


Addendum 29.04.2024
QUOTE: " Q.Is there a commercial relationship btw the owners and port state ?
A.No there isn’t " END QUOTE

After giving it some consideration and taking account of latest example delivered by gCaptain below it looks I shoud change the answer from " No there is not " to " there may be"

Apart from gCaptain art. i remember some terminals all over the world owned or partially owned by huge shipping company. Example ;
Algieciras Maersk terminal , Port Said Maersk terminal , APM terminals and CMA CGM Terminals in LA , APM Terminals in Port Elisabeth and many others.
Maersk Commits $600 Million Investment In Nigeria’s Ports (gcaptain.com)

One example which should bother Americans is the port of Pireus owned wholy or partialy by CCP ( Chinese Communist Party) :wink: (COSCO)

Hence my earlier optimism with " no there is not " has been brutally revised by a/m facts. Luckily for me I did it. :wink:

One must be naive thinking in such cases Owner will not apply pressure even on local PSC .

I listened to the podcast and it is spot-on on the competency of the PSC inspectors and the need to provide standardized training. Same competency issue can said about Class surveyors as mentioned above by KPRFC. The competency list goes on with Flag, vessel crew, etc. Licensing requirements on the vessel is limited to deck and engineering officers (and Sparkies of yesteryear). What about the electrical officer? Some vessels still do not carry an electrician (some flags allow this – minimum manning comes under the jurisdiction of the flag state). And in some regimes as we know, it is an unlicensed position. In others it is a ‘certified’ position. Ships are getting complex in terms of the electrical/electronics and will continue on this path. Maybe time for a license requirement for the ETO as they are called these days.

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From Forbes, “Recruitment and retention challenges have led the U.S. Coast Guard into a system-wide service retreat. A 3500-person shortfall—a nearly 10% shortage in the enlisted ranks—is forcing the Coast Guard to take ten cutters out of service, transfer five tugs to seasonal activation, and shutter 29 boat stations.” The El Faro, a captain doesn’t know a hurricane is coming? Or knows and the “bosses” tell him he can’t wait for it to pass because it would cost THEM money. Rates up there with the loss of the Bounty, a very olde wooden ship is safer in a hurricane than tied to a dock? Yeah, right.

Class doesn’t actually govern anything. They are an extension of the Flag Administration who governs pretty much everything. It is true that for the vast majority of issues, Class is the primary entity that the vessel and company will deal with.

The Flag IS the most important because that is the entity that allows the class societies to conduct statutory activities on their behalf. As a Recognized Organization (RO), a class society cannot do ANYTHING on it’s own. Everything is done “on behalf of” the Administration they are acting for and each Administration has different agreements with their various ROs. Something an RO can do on behalf of Panama they may or may not be able to do on behalf of Liberia for example. An Administration also may have delegated certain things to one RO that they have not to others. Some Flags only recognize IACS member class societies while others recognize societies with less stringent competencies shall we say. What separates the good from the bad Flag States is weather they are actually flexing their oversight muscle. A good measure of the quality of the Flag Administration is which class societies do they allow. For some it is IACS only, others allow a lot of “class” societies that most people have never heard of. Because so much is done by the RO on their behalf, the most important thing a Flag State does is RO oversight.

The professional competence of PSC and Flag Inspectors is just as important as class surveyors although for different reasons. PSC and some Flags (depending on their Flag Safety Inspection approach) have the ability to stop a vessel from leaving port costing the owner potentially millions of dollars. They better know what they are doing. I listened to the podcast and I would include not just the PSC inspector but any shoreside PSC administration who has input in to those detention decisions. I have seen USCG PSCOs issue very dumb Code 17 deficiencies because they did not have the experience or training to fully understand the equipment they are assigning deficiencies against. I have also seen PSCOs issue very dumb Code 17 deficiencies at the behest of their office senior staff that actually accomplished zero in the way of marine safety or environmental protection. The best USCG PSCOs are either maritime academy grad or Warrant Officers who did something else prior to becoming a Marine Inspector. The worst are Junior Officers with non maritime degrees and no industry experience.

PSC is supposed to be the last line of defense in the compliance matrix and it is 100% true that not all PSC regimes are created equal. If I look at a ships PSC history, deficiencies/no deficiencies outside the US, Australia, TokyoMOU, and ParisMOU does not mean much to me. I don’t trust their assignment or non-assignment of deficiencies as particularly meaningful. I have read 100s of PSC reports from all around the world and there are some really dumb deficiencies written. I have read 1000s of Flag State reports from around the world and there are some really dumb deficiencies written.

Unfortunately because the RO and Class is often the same entity the line gets between classification and statutory gets blurred and most in the industry, even many industry “experts” do not fully understand the nuances. In conducting surveys, the RO role is secondary to their classification role. They do a class annual, throw on a few other things and call it a SOLAS statutory annual.

If I could be IMO king for a day I would say that Class and RO can’t be the same organization. To me it would be a good check on the system to have the class and statutory surveys done by different parties.

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Would it change things if classification societies were separated from owners and were paid by the underwriters? Owners would choose the insurance provider and the premium would include payment to class. Operators of substandard shipping would come to the attention of those carrying the risk in a way that they couldn’t ignore. Without P & I cover the operator can’t trade.

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I think substandardness is like water in that it flows to the path of least resistance. P&I is no
different than class which is (mostly) no different than flag in that the owner can pick which one and whichever combination they want.

The P&I clubs aren’t paying class, but they do determine which class societies you can use. They may not pick the exact one but for most clubs just like most flags, the list is short.

Operators of substandard shipping can already hide if they want to, I don’t see how you change that just by changing in what order the money flows through which hands.

Hello BrownWaterGuy

You are correct. Poor choice of words. Class indeed does not govern. I think ‘administers’ or provides the ‘governance’ of Flag state would be more appropriate. But essentially flag requirements are IMO/SOLAS with possibly some additional regulations or requirements on the more mature flag states such as US/USCG. Maybe the unheard of FOCs has loose interpretations of IMO – don’t know.
I think most flag states do not have (or cannot afford) the talent pool of surveyors and rely on the RO/Class to conduct the surveys, issue certs, etc on their behalf. And yes, competency all the way up as well as down is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Wonder if the NTSB report on the Dali will reference any report or deficiencies (or lack thereof) from any PSC or Class.

Hi Hogsnort

Maybe. Not sure though as the Class needs to be ‘independent’ of Insurance. Kind of a Catch 22. Talent is diluted between the PSC, Flag and Class surveyors. Perhaps as suggested above, Flag and PSC use Class surveyors (from a competing Class) as their boots on the ground. Example, use DnV on a ABS class vessel. Not sure if this will work, but perhaps would be good for improving talent.


Classification Societies’ primary role is to set technical standards for the design and building of ship per their rules, including type approval of machinery and equipment. This is followed by attendance at the building yard and during sea trials to ensure that the vessels meet the assigned class notations.

During operation there are regular survey to ensure that the vessels are being maintained and remain in a condition as required to remain in their class.

This is traditionally their primary role. In addition Flag states can authorise classification societies to act on their behalf to carry out statutory survey and certification work of their ships.

Here is the EMSA’s take on the role of Classification Societies relative to vessel under EU flags:

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That is more the how they fulfill role that what that role is.

Their role is to provide an objective third party certification or attestment to the material condition of a ship.

What purpose does that serve? If there isn’t a “customer” for that information than why have it. Yes, it is the P&I Clubs, but also the flag state. The reputable ones require a vessel to be in class in addition to being maintained in full compliance with SOLAS, MARPOL, etc.

This is where they differ from being an RO even though they are doing a very similar thing, just a different focus. Condition vs Compliance.

This all gets murky at times and owners and crews often don’t know the nuances of the differences.

If it is strictly a class issue, the Flag State has no authority to tell the class society what to do. If it is a compliance issue then the Flag State can definitely tell that same Class/RO what to do.

I think how large the flag’s fleet is and how global the fleet trades is definitely a factor. Some only use in house surveyors for Flag Surveys/Inspections, some use a global network of contractors, and others allow the RO to do the flag state inspection. I know of at least one that counts the RO conducted SOLAS annual survey as the flag state inspection.

I think it is less about interpretation and more about willingness to expend effort to conduct actual oversight.

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The major Classification Societies has a lot more on their plate than just classification of ships these days.
Here is a couple of well known examples:

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After many years as a shipmaster of US flag vessels, I now attend foreign vessels as a superintendent on behalf of the vessel’s managers for PSC inspections. I don’t see FOC vessels having any less operational standards than US flag. Flag states that are traditionally considered FOC, such as Panama, are just as proactive as US flag in addressing equipment failures and such. All ships, regardless of the flag, have the same IMO model SMS. All ship’s, regardless of the flag state, seem to have similar Flag State and Class interaction. What is unique in the US is that the PSC officers are non-mariners (albeit well-trained), where in most places in the world, the PSC officers are former ship masters, chief engineers or senior level naval officers.


So your saying the farm boys (and girls) that the USCG sends to do PSC inspections are non-mariners?

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I think what he is saying is they don’t have a maritime background prior to becoming inspectors. This is not 100% true but a large majority of USCG PSCOs. The best USCG inspectors IMNHSO are either ones who spent time on cutters or the civilian maritime graduate inspectors. They understand the equipment and vessel operations better than someone who was only taught in a classroom and OJT.

Personally I think the greatest deficit in maritime education is the regulatory scheme. It is virtually entirely OJT an that applies to both the regulator and the regulatee.

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I’m sure the Coasties think of themselves as mariners. However, through the eyes of mariners who have spent decades at sea, it is hard to consider them as experience mariners.

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