All merchant vessels of any significant size must be registered. There are over 140 ship registers in operation worldwide. Ship registers impose obligations on ship owners regarding maintenance, crewing standards and certification of those matters by the flag state or inspection bodies duly authorised by the flag state. I am advised that the practice of using flags of convenience or, involving what is perceived as lenient regulatory requirements, is permissible under international law.
The International Maritime Organisation is establishing internationally agreed safety and manning standards which are enforceable on ships calling at member state's ports. The European Commission has developed proposals to mandate minimum conditions for the manning of ships using EU ports, and, for the hours worked by seafarers on such ships and these will come into effect before July 2002.
Foreign registered vessels using Irish ports are inspected regularly by the marine survey office of my Department in the exercise of Ireland's port State control obligations. These inspections are aimed at ensuring that such vessels are maintained and operated in compliance with international safety standards laid down by the International Maritime Organisation. Deficiencies identified are brought to the attention of the owner and flag state administration, and, must be rectified before the ship continues its journey.