All merchant vessels of any significant size must be registered. There are over 140 ship registers in operation world-wide. 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, involving what is perceived as lenient regulatory requirements, is still permissible under international law.
As Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, I have responsibilities in relation to the Irish Ship Register – that is, for Irish registered ships – the operations of other ship registers is governed by applicable national and international law. I have no statutory functions in relation to seafarers wages.
Foreign registered vessels using Irish ports are inspected regularly by the marine survey office of my Department in the exercise of Irelands 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 and, in relation to seafarers social conditions, by the International Labour Organisation's maritime conventions, together with relevant EU initiatives in the maritime area. Deficiencies identified are brought to the attention of the owner and flag state administration and may have to be rectified before the ship continues its journey.
My Department has completed a strategic and operational review of maritime safety regulatory services in October 2000 and its recommendations are now being implemented. A Maritime Safety Directorate was established in February 2002 and an additional nine vessel surveyors were recruited to the marine survey office, which is an integral part of the new directorate.
Inspections of foreign ships under the Directive 95/21/EC, on port state control have increased from 14.6% in 2000 and 21% in 2001 to 30% in 2002. Up to end of March 2003, 128 ships have been inspected and 14 were detained for non-compliance with international safety requirements. Ireland participates in IMO and ILO discussions on seafarers welfare, supporting proposals aimed at improving their terms and conditions of employment. Ireland will continue to support efforts in all appropriate fora to enhance working conditions for seafarers on board flags of convenience and indeed all vessels and will continue to enforce safety and operational standards through the port state control framework.