On 20 July, the Centre for International Maritime Security published an article saying that unauthorised flag use is a practice whereby a vessel uses a state’s flag without its consent and, oftentimes, without its knowledge. Although this can take many forms, often overlapping, it may be helpful to think of this issue in 2 broad categories: fraudulent flagging and false flagging. It says that the issue of fraudulent flagging came to attention in 2015, when the IMO became aware of a registry purporting to operate on behalf of the Federated States of Micronesia. In 2017, the DRC reported that 77 of 84 ships said to be flying its flag were doing so without authorisation. In 2019, it was estimated that some 300 ships were using fraudulent flagging. The article says that false flagging poses a more complex challenge – being much easier to perpetrate, does not require anchoring the deception in an official recognition by the IMO, but instead involves creating a false identity that is good enough to get away with illicit activity – such as by transmitting false AIS information. The article concludes that fraudulent and false flagging is a complex issue requiring action from multilateral organizations like the IMO, national authorities, and the private sector, and that it is only through steps taken collectively by all relevant stakeholders that this problem can be addressed.
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