Foreign Flag or Flag of Convenience?

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February 19, 2009

Foreign Flag or Flag of Convenience?

by Ian Bowles

During the glory days of empire and famous shipping lines, it would have been easy for nationalistic tendencies to come to the fore. Easy to look down one’s nose at others, but at the same time though, have a mutual respect for one’s equals. Thus it came to be that there could be two main types of national ensign; one that is of a major seafaring nation and the other that is of not such a nation, and so entered the “flag of convenience” or as it was often also called, “foreign flag”. That is, a foreign flag was a bad flag.

Now fast forward to a few years ago and the Connecticut Maritime Association’s annual Shipping event. Your author had a great chat with a young man fresh out of King’s Point, his 2nd Mates ticket still in the wrapper, although he was old enough to drink! When I asked him what his plans were he said he was going to have either join some domestic tug company or a domestic tanker company, both trading up and down the US coast. Is that all that is on offer I asked and he said yes, without going foreign flag.

Apparently, all through college they drummed into him how bad (or is that unpatriotic?), foreign flag is….aaahhh, the “F” word! Well at this point I must say I took umbrage, climbed on to my high (and cynical) horse and gave my 2¢ worth. To defend [some] foreign flags as truly worthy flags to sail under…in the interests of industry.

And before you rush to admonish me, let me say in my defense how much I love this (soon to be “my”!) country and will always support it in any way possible. But, this is the land of opportunity, the land where hard work and entrepreneurship are duly rewarded…that is why I want to call it my home for sure. I am not saying that coastal trading is bad or in any way demeaning of professional character, I certainly did my share of it, but only once my youthful exuberance was waning.

But this young man, with beer in hand, was silently crying out for something more. What he really needed was some good old fashioned global tramping bulk carrier with mixed nationality crew and no stern alcohol restrictions. A few years in that fun environment would have set him up nicely for quick promotion and with a world of experience under his belt, then come back to the US flag and help fix what is wrong, if indeed there is anything wrong.

The Merchant Marine is a passionate industry in any language and is stymieing that passion the right way to protect our own little corner of it?

About the author:

Capt. Ian Bowles, MNI
VP Sales & Marketing, FarSounder, Inc.

Bowles is a Master Mariner with 30 years of industry experience. He went to sea in 1978 with the UK Merchant Navy and rose to the rank of Master. After 13 years he came ashore and for the last 17 years has been involved in senior international sales and marketing roles with major marine electronic manufacturers, (Raytheon Marine, Rutter Technologies and Japan Radio Co., Ltd.). He is currently VP of Sales & Marketing with FarSounder.

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