The utter meaninglessness of any flag a ship flies


From the Report of Investigation by the USCG:

The Minimum Safe Manning Certificate (MSMC) issued by the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) for DEEPWATER HORIZON listed the vessel as a self-propelled MODU rather than as a dynamic positioned vessel. RMI has since acknowledged that listing the unit as a self-propelled MODU was the result of a “clerical error.” [pg 27]

Because of a “clerical error,” by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, DEEPWATER HORIZON was classified in a manner that permitted it to have a dual-command organizational structure under which the OIM was in charge when the vessel was latched on to the well, but the master was in charge when the MODU was underway between locations or in an emergency situation. [pg xii]

This investigation also revealed that the oversight and regulation of DEEPWATER HORIZON by its flag state, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), was ineffective in preventing this casualty. By delegating all of its inspection activities to “recognized organizations,” without itself conducting on board oversight surveys, the RMI effectively abdicated its vessel inspection responsibilities. In turn, this failure illustrates the need to strengthen the system of U.S. Coast Guard oversight of foreign-flagged MODUs, which as currently constructed is too limited to effectively ensure the safety of such vessels. [pg ix]

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) failed to directly ensure that DEEPWATER HORIZON was in compliance with all applicable requirements, including those relating to the electrical equipment in hazardous zones, degradations in watertight integrity, crew training, emergency preparedness, and others. RMI entrusted these duties to ABS and DNV, and did not conduct sufficient monitoring of those classification societies to detect oversight failures. This incident raises serious questions about the regulatory model under which a flag state may rely entirely on classification societies to do its inspection and investigative work. [pg 20]



Regardless of the above Marshall Island is white listed by all MOUs and “Qualship 21” approved by USCG.
Actually the problem with lack of proper and clear “Line of Command” on MODUs is a problem that has been noted for many years and been mentioned as a major contributing factor in every major accident involving American owned and operated drilling units.

Many flag states requires a qualified Master Mariner to be in charge, whether the MODU is under way, at anchor, or operating on DP on a drilling location.
The so called OIM certificate issued by USCG to allow someone with a non-maritime background or training to be in charge when the MODU is stationary on a drilling location is not acceptable by most Flag or Shelf States.

In fact a self-propelled vessel of any kind and under any flag requires a Master in charge. Obtaining DP class without being “self-propelled” is rather difficult, but it does exist. Some units are able to maintain station using own thruster propulsion, but are not certified to undertake voyages without tug assistance. (Tow assisted units)

I don’t know what the DWH was classified as, but if she had been working in places with proper rules and regulation the person in charge, whether called Master or OIM would have had to hold proper maritime credentials.

If USCG is looking for someone to blame, they should look at their own shortcomings, allowing a Driller with a 5 day “OIM School” to be in charge of anything afloat while working on the US OCS.


Hey, I’m just telling you what the report said. At the time of the incident, the vessel was classified as self-propelled only, implying that it would be anchored when drilling, not “under way but not making way.” And yes, I’ve looked at the command structure on board and its implications in some depth, if I do say so myself.

By the time of the incident the vessel was allowed by her management and those responsible for inspecting her to deteriorate significantly. One expert at the trial pronounced her “unseaworthy.” TO was just doing bandaids until she went into dry dock in November. Safety-relevant equipment (the rotating table) had been out of commission for four years. When we interviewed Mike WIlliams he characterized the materials handling equipment as “junk.” The electrical and electronics had been rewired on an ad hoc basis by his predecessor and nothing conformed to the drawings. Nobody could determine whether the pressure gauges on the drill floor had been calibrated since the rig was built. This led to one pressure anomaly to be written off as “just a bad pressure gauge.” I could go on and on. If anybody cares I can upload the expert report on her condition so you can look for yourself.



Yes and I answered to that article.
No matter what was wrong with the DWH registration the MIR is a quality register. Whitelisted and with a very good track record on safety:

As for the manning of MODUs under MIR flag there are three main “classifications” i.e. Self-propelled, Non-self-propelled and DPV (Dynamic Positioned Vessels). In this case we deal with only the first and the last.
Here is MIR’s minimum required manning schedule:

If the DWH was wrongly registered as Self-propelled, not DPV for this purpose it have implications on the qualification of the marine crews on board. Especially since the OIM would be PIC while on location.

The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) class notations were “A1, Column Stabilized Drilling Unit, AMS, ACCU, DPS-3”, which clearly identify the DWH as a DPV.

Whether it was also approved as Self-propelled is not easy to determine as I have no access to the documentation and the DWH has been removed from Equalis.
(Most of the latest MODUs are, but in 2001 it was more common to be classes as “tow assisted” for long voyages)

In any case it should be banned to have a non-mariner in charge of a self-propelled MODU, whether operating on DP or anchored. Most shelf states do not allow this any more, after several major accidents where this has been identified as a major or contributing factor casing the accident/fatalities.

I myself left job as Master on a Drillship because of a lack of backing by the management, when the Oilco tried to take control in a potential emergency (approaching Typhoon)
PS> The same company had been blamed for the loss of another Drillship and 92 lives some years earlier.


If the Flag of convenience Marshall Islands which in reality is a do nothing tiny government that is just a front for a for-profit corporation located in America is a “quality register” based on MOU whitelists, doesn’t that show either that:

  1. MOU whitelists are a meaningless yardstick to measure by, or

  2. American corporations do a better job than most governments in regulating shipping, so government regulation is unnecessary.


The DWH was self propelled. It’s “sister” the DW Neptune was anchored type but I belive did have 4 thrusters to assist. DWH had 8. As I recall, when underway, 6 were locked and two could still azimuth to steer. This was 5 years before the incident but at that time deck and engine all were licensed and there was no difference in manning when on location or transiting. I understand later they did allow unlicensed persons as maintenance supervisor vice chief engineer when on location.

Having said that I think you are missing the main point. Which is…

The RMI safety record does not make the above observation illegitimate. In fact any flag state / registry who’s core competency is bureaucratic, accounts receivable accounting and desktop publishing of circulars and certificates AND NOT technical, engineering, operational expertise MIGHT have a good safety record only by accident. Something to consider anyway.


This particular American corporation is obviously doing a good job of administrating the Marshall Island Register in accordance with IMO rules and international treaties that the Marshall Island Government is a signatory to. They do not set the rules though.
IRI do have many years of track record to show, not only on behalf of Marshall Islands but on behalf of Liberia before that:

As to delegating all of its inspection activities to “recognized organizations,” this is not entirely correct. Marshall Island Registry does have a inspection arrangement to perform the mandatory “Annual Flag State Safety Inspections” per IMO requirements:
Like any other company offering worldwide inspection of ships they do use 3rd party Surveyors that has been vetted and approved.

Also as is common they do use approved Classification Societies to issue certificates on their behalf. So does USCG, NMA, MCA and every other quality flag state I know of.

That they have adapted some US practises should not be surprising, since they are a tool for the US Shipping Industry. (As are Vanuatu for the Oil & Gas Industry)

PS> The up and coming Palau Ships Register has it’s HQ in Piraeus. Greece and Houston, Tx. They are aiming to take over as preferred register for US and Greek owners as MI and Liberia become too independent minded.


The sister rig to the DWH was the Deepwater Nautilus. Here are the 2009 descriptions of the two vessels from the Transocean web site:

Preview of “Transocean – Deepwater Horizon”.pdf (184.1 KB)

Transocean : Deepwater Nautilus.pdf (158.3 KB)




The subjects of Registries and if it comes to that Classification Societies really get me going. In 2009 a small ship, the Demas Victory, registered in St Vincent and the Grenadines went down off the port of Doha with the loss of 30 lives. There was no investigation and as far as I can tell, no interest, apart from a comment by the man who had carried out the salvage, that it gets a bit rough sometimes, although a UK based insurer paid compensation to the families of the crew. At the time I attempted to communicate with the registry, based in Switzerland I think and the St Vincent and Grenadines government with no success. Surely the sinking of a ship with the loss of 30 lives should not go uninvestigated, but it did ( If after all this time I turn out to be wrong I’d love to hear).

And since we are talking about the Deepwater Horizon again the problems with MODUs go a lot further than what the registries are likely to do, or what class are up to. The actual regulations – the MODU Code have a lot to answer for . Like others with an interest I have written quite a bit about this disaster, and I think provided an acceptable summary for those who would like to know more on my website at Deepwater Horizon


The Liberian registry had regulations drafted by some of the finest New York lawyers money could buy. The Belize registry had no regulations which seemed to suit the American company involved. A fraudster wanted by the FBI was apprehended in Vancouver and he was found to have a Belize passport. The judge found he couldn’t detain him in Canada and there were no Belize law that he could apply.
As a one time master of a small feeder ship of 600 teu, 2 x 40 tonne cranes, 17 knots on intermediate fuel oil, Becker rudder and a useful bow thruster I have always wondered how a tug and barge with a crawler crane stack up economically. I have passed a few in and around Vancouver and Seattle doing about 8 to 9 knots if my memory serves me right?
They tried to export some of the finest coking coal from the West Coast of the South Island in NZ by tug and barge. No one could forecast when the tow would complete the voyage . Sometimes it was 10 days and once 6 weeks! The crew described it as like being in a washing machine. They beat a retreat to calmer waters in Australia.


Here is the Case Study by the P&I Club for Demas Victory:

Compensation was eventually awarded by a Qatari court in 2011:

Nothing found about any enquiry by any authority.


Any regulations drafted by NY Lawyers on behalf of Liberian authorities is likely to have been on the financial, contractual and legal side of the business.
Liberia is member of IMO and a signatory to several international maritime treaties. Even under new management; Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry (LISCR, LLC), a private U.S. owned and globally operated company:
it is still regarded as a quality register with a good safety record.


That goes to show, just get governments and all their pesky regulations and inspections out of the way and let for-profit American corporations run things.

The life of an American sailor is often fairly cheap after an accident, typically around $500,000 each, but at $55,000 for 35 dead sailors and oil patch workers in Qatar, that’s less than $2000 per per person, Americans certainly cannot compete with third world villagers. A foreign shipowner only has to give up one good bottle of wine for each third world villager that he kills.


Be careful what you wish for. If you look at the fine print on the Liberian Safe Manning Certificate you will find that it is the master who is responsible for ensuring that the numbers listed on the certificate are sufficient for the safe operation of the vessel. As we say in this part of the world -“yeah right.”


It seems like many regulatory efforts are just a lot of froth. The regulations that result with the consent of the companies are something they can tolerate, if not quite on the company wish list. At the end of the day, one way or another, the companies do get nearly what they want. And then blame everything that goes wrong on the Master.


You shouldn’t comment on things you know fuck-all about.


Here is what it is about:



So a course is accepted in lieu of exams, what’s your point? Do you think that any Joe schmoe can take that course and instantly become an OIM?


Of course not:


Good, so now you see how your original statement I replied to is incorrect. I’m glad you’ve learned how to look things up, try doing it before posting from now on.