The inspection of ships is the milestone of
seaworthiness. This is the reason why the control of
the ships was firstly regulated by international
conventions, introducing the strong connection that
was necessary between the flag state and the ship.
This connection didn’t serve only in creating a legal
environment within which the legal cases on board a
ship could be resolved, but also served in creating a
stable legal environment for the ship’s control.
However, the needs of the shipping community
industry made it clear that this “genuine link” despite
the fact it was necessary it wasn’t sufficient enough to
dominate the control procedure of ships. More
precisely, the globalization and the phenomenon of
open registries had as a consequence poor or
mismanagement within the scope of cost cutting
priorities and global competition. The states of open
registries and especially those of flags of convenience,
in several occasions, cannot exercise appropriate
administrative control on ships that are registered at
their national registries. As a result, the ships that are
flying their flag do not respect international
regulations as concerns maritime security and safety.
In this reasoning, the procedure of Port State Control
(‘”PSC”) was introduced in order to make the
execution of controls more often and more objective.
Taking into account the fact that PSC is on the road
of its progress, a new model of controlling appeared
in order to affect PSC, the so-called remote
inspections/controls that are already practiced by the
flag states, classification societies and maritime
management companies. The distant control of ships
with the use of new technologies and modern
communication couldn’t leave aside the PSC. This
paper stresses the importance of the remote
inspections of PSC that became a necessity in the
pandemic era of COVID-19 and should continue their
existence in the field of PSC in the new digitalized era
of maritime industry. Some states such as Liberia have
already used the technology in order to response to
the current health guidelines and restrictions due to
COVID-19. Liberia was the first flag state that
introduced the remote vessel closings, instrument
recordation, remote class surveys and remote Annual
Safety Inspection (ASI) program.
The paper is focused on two issues. It concentrates
on the connection of inspections with the flag states,
as the idea of controlling vessels’ seaworthiness was
initially orientated. Secondly, it analyses PSC from the
From The Flag State Duty For Inspections To The
Remote Port State Control. The Necessity For Distant
D. Kiltidou
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece
ABSTRACT: Inspections are aiming at maritime safety. This paper describes the central role of flag states in
controlling the vessels that are registered at their national register. However, the effectiveness of the inspections
is mainly based on the Port State Control (PSC) inspections that are following the needs of the digital era
introducing the remote controls.
the International Journal
on Marine Navigation
and Safety of Sea Transportation
Volume 14
Number 4
December 2020
DOI: 10.12716/1001.14.04.22
scope of its digitalization, taking into account the real
progress that has been done in flag states’ inspections,
following the paradigm of Liberia. These two
directions are studied in order to emphasize that
although the flag states’ inspection has the first role in
the control of the seaworthiness of the vessels that are
registered at their national registers, the PSC has
become the key for the global maritime safety. As a
consequence, the shipping community should give
prominence to the issue of the future effectiveness of
the inspections that are exercised from port states by
applying the modern communication and new
technologies of our era. However, it is to be noted that
although the modernization of PSC it is inevitably
necessary, there are a lot of challenges to be faced.
The inspection of ships is also a matter of jurisdiction
over ships plying the seas. The flag state jurisdiction
in inspecting the vessels flying their flag is the
evidence of the developments of maritime community
in order to respect safety at sea. More precisely, this
connection between the flag state and the ship sets a
legal framework under which the operation of the
ship is governed. Furthermore, it must be mentioned
that the flag of the ship plays an important role in the
application of international law when the flag states
have implemented international law into their
national legal system (Brownlie, 1998; Tetley, 1993;
Sigh, 1978; Lefrançois, 2010; Meyers, 1967). As a
consequence, international community imposed the
duty of flag state for inspections through international
conventions, such as the Convention on High Seas
1958 (“HSC”) and the United Nations Convention on
law of the Sea 1982 (“UNCLOS”).
2.1 The Duties Of Flag State for Inspections Under
Each state can determine the conditions under which
a ship can fly its flag. But its jurisdiction does not stop
at this point. The flag state has many duties regarding
the effective jurisdiction and control of ship that is
registered at its national ship register. More precisely,
the article 94 of the UNCLOS elucidates the duties of
the flag states in a separate article. The provisions of
the article are based on the article 5 and 10 of the
Convention HSC. The final form of article 94, and
especially articles 2-5, were based on a working paper
on the high seas stating precisely the obligations of
the flag state (Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland,
Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands and United
Kingdom: Working paper on High Seas, 12 August
1974, UNCLOS III, official records, III). The article 94
of UNCLOS lists explicitly flag state requirements
(Franckx, 1997; Kasoulides, 1989). Moreover, article 94
should be read in conjunction with the provisions of
the article 92 of the same convention that stresses that
ships shall sail under the flag of one state only and,
shall be subject to its exclusive jurisdiction on the high
seas. The scope of the article, it can be said that it is to
secure more effective implementation of the duties of
the flag state and not to establish criteria by reference
to which the validity of registration of ships can be
challenged by other states.
The flag state exercises its jurisdiction and controls
in administrative, social and technical issues, as it is
described in par. 1. of the article. This paragraph of
the article has been taken from article 5 of HSC where
it was adopted in order to strengthen the genuine link
with regard to the nationality of the ship and in order
to give further indication to the link between the flag
state and ships flying its flag. However, at this point it
must be stressed that although all the above
mentioned matters such as administrative, social and
technical are strongly linked to the state were the ship
is registered, in article 94 there is absence of a link
between them and the genuine link provision of
article 91, par. 1. This view increases the difficulty of
arguing that a failure by the flag state to perform its
duties could rise evidence of the absence of genuine
link, as it was stated by Brown (Brown, 1994).
Otherwise the failure of a flag state to accomplish
with the requirements of article 94 would render
national registration a nullity. The article 1 of the
United Nations Convention on the Registration of
Ships 1986 (“CRS 1986”) precise the connection
between the flag state and the ship as it mentions that
the effective exercise of the jurisdiction and control
over ships concerns the identification and
accountability of the ship owners and operators as
well as the administrative, technical, social and
economic matters. At this moment this Convention is
not into force, as only 14 countries have become
signatory parties it. In par. 2 of the same article the
duties of the flag state are more concrete and in these
are included the registration of a ship at one country’s
ship register containing the names and particulars”
of ships flying its flag. Furthermore, the master, the
crew and the officers of the ship have to respect the
law of the country of the ship register and it can be
added that the law of ship’s register is applicable to
all person on board a ship, such as passengers
(Hosanee, 2009). In par. 3 of the article there are
mentioned, not restrictively but inter alia the
measures that the flag state should take necessarily to
ensure the safety at sea concerning the construction,
equipment and seaworthiness of ships, the manning
of ships, labour conditions and the training of crews,
taking into account the applicable international
instruments, the use of signals, the maintenance of
communications and the prevention of collisions. The
seaworthiness as it is prescribed in par. 3 is
supplemented by article 219 which concerns vessels’
obligation to be in seaworthy condition in order to
avoid marine pollution. In par. 4 it is prescribed that
each ship, before registration and thereafter at
appropriate intervals, is surveyed by a qualified
surveyor of ships for the safe navigation of ship. Also,
flag state’s measures shall ensure that the
qualifications of the master and the crew are
appropriate and that these persons are fully
conversant with and required to observe the
applicable international regulations concerning the
safety of life at sea, the prevention of collisions, the
prevention, reduction and control of marine pollution,
and the maintenance of communications by radio. Par.
5 addresses the obligation of the flag state to take any
possible steps in order to ensure the observance of the
ship. The flag state must take all the measures in order
to conform to generally accepted regulations,
practices and procedures relating to the safety of life
at sea, the prevention of collisions and marine
pollution and the maintenance of radio
communications. According to par. 6 a flag state must
take all the necessary remedies when a state has clear
grounds to believe that proper jurisdiction and
control with respect to a ship have not been exercised
and reported the facts. In other words, par. 6
supplements par. 1 because it sets the obligation of the
flag state to exercise its jurisdiction and control over
ships flying its flag (Hosanee, 2009). Finally, in par. 7
is stressed the duty of the flag state to set an enquiry
when a marine casualty or incident of navigation
happens to a ship flying its flag on high seas. Τhis
paragraph mainly cultivates the idea of cooperation
between nations in order to clarify incidents which are
taking place on high seas. In this vein, IMO
encouraged cooperation and recognition of mutual
interests of states in marine casualties and incidents’
investigation through resolutions and conventions.
The flag state control on vessels that are registered on
the national register is an inevitable duty of the flag
state (Brownlie, 1998). Nevertheless, many flag states
are not able or they are reluctant to practice controls
on their ships or there is a serious failure on the part
of many flag states to implement and enforce
international standards. Whereas, henceforth the
global community tried to find out a more effective
way of controls on ships regarding maritime safety,
the protection of maritime environment and the
respect of decent shipboard living and working
conditions, as it is clearly stated in the Directive
95/21/EC. As it was clearly said by scholars, the first
line of defense of eliminating substandard vessels is
the flag state and the second line is the PSC (Knapp, S.
and Franses, P.H., 2007). However, as it will be
analyzed below, it is evident that there is need for PSC
inspections to improve the inspection efficiency and
accuracy. PSC is becoming the essential and
appropriate guardian of maritime safety. Last but not
least, the digitalization of PSC was found in the
agenda of international organizations and flag states
far before the appearance of the pandemic
phenomenon of COVID-19. However, although it
started as an urgent necessity in this period of time, it
is going to stay in maritime industry.
3.1 A General Approach Of Port State Control
In 1982 fourteen European states conceived the first
regional agreement on inspections system with Paris
Memorandum of Understanding on PSC (Paris MOU)
in order to stem the proliferation of substandard
vessels across European waters (Graziano, 2018). It is
also to be noted that Paris MOU in which 27
participating maritime authorities agree to implement
a harmonized system of PSC.
Since the Hague Memorandum in 1978, PSC is the
basic global strategy for fighting substandard
shipping. Furthermore it improved the coordinated
ship safety inspections regarding safety of ships and
the crew and the protection of maritime environment
and living and working conditions. The evident role
of PSC was that many flag states couldn’t fulfill their
obligation on their vessels (Ozçayir, 2004, 2009;
Anderson, 2002). In Europe, it seems to be the most
efficient and reliable regional agreement, although
there are a lot of differences at the inspector and
member state level.
At European level, relevant Directives aimed to
help drastically to reduce substandard vessels in the
waters of jurisdiction of member states. The European
Directives aimed at ensuring a harmonized approach
to the effective enforcement of international standards
by member states when performing control to all the
ships calling at their ports. In that respect, Directive
1995/21/EC stressed the increasing compliance with
international and relevant community legislation on
maritime safety, protection of the marine environment
and living and working conditions on board a ship of
all flags. Moreover, it focuses on establishing common
criteria for control of ships by the Port State and
harmonizing the procedures of detention and
inspection taking into account Paris MOU. This
Directive has been replaced by the Directive
2009/16/EC (article 1) as amended by the Directive
2013/38/EU. More precisely, Directive 2009/16/EC
introduces the SafeseaNet inspection database as it is
described by Directive 2002/59/EC. Moreover,
Directive 2009/16/EC and Directive 2013/38/EU
improved the first Directive in general and especially
Directive 2013/38/EU enforced the application of the
Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC 2006) during
PSC procedure.
Moreover, it is also to be noted that IMO’s
initiative enforced the contribution of regional co-
operations. Many of the IMO’s conventions contain
provisions for ships to be inspected when they
approach foreign ports in order to ensure that they
comply with IMO requirements. With the Resolution
A.682(17) the Organization promoted regional co-
operations in the control of ships in order to render
the inspections more coordinated and effective. The
initiative of IMO concluded to 9 regional MOUs on
PSC that have been signed. These MOUs are: Europe
and the north Atlantic (Paris MoU); Asia and the
Pacific (Tokyo MoU); Latin America (Acuerdo de
Viña del Mar); Caribbean (Caribbean MoU); West and
Central Africa (Abuja MoU); the Black Sea region
(Black Sea MoU); the Mediterranean (Mediterranean
MoU); the Indian Ocean (Indian Ocean MoU); and the
Riyadh MoU. The United States Coast Guard maintain
the tenth PSC regime.
It seems that a new era of challenges has started. In
the shadow of the last pandemic, such as the long
period of COVID-19, a new model of flag states’
inspections was formed on ships in order to control
ships’ safety (for example, Liberia exercised distant
inspections). It can be said that the distant controls
will overwhelm the difficulties of inspections with
physical presence, however careful steps must be
taken in order facilitate and ameliorate these controls.
In this vein, it will be described below why the
digitalization of our era could be useful in inspections
through PSC.
4.1 The Problems Of The Port State Control That Create
The Necessity For Remote Inspections
The port state control does not appear any
genuineness of a link between the flag state and the
vessel. Instead, it is practiced by port states to any
vessel that enter them no matter of their flag. In other
words, PSC is the international regime of inspection
of foreign ships that enter the port state and aims to
ensure that the inspected vessels are compliant with
international conventions. Its success is found upon
its distinction from the patchy implementation of flag
state control as it is regulated by international
conventions and guidelines (Gauci, 2017). The
deficiencies of the way that inspections are conducted
have raised complaints from the part of ship owners
as they were represented in Intertanko and ICS
(Knudsen and Hassler, 2010). Although the MOU
1982 has set the harmonization of standards on the
inspection of vessels within the region where MOU
was established this goal faced several problems. The
main reason of developing PSC was the need about
sharing information on safety records of vessels and
to avoid the inspection of a vessel at every port within
a region. However, these harmonized rules didn’t face
the same practice as the discrepancies in every state
could affect the performance of the controls (Ozçayir,
2004, 2009). Also, insufficient funds for the exercise of
PSC and lack of appropriate personnel should be
taken into account, for example in some states
inspections are subject to budgetary restraints.
Moreover, inspections are exercised by national
inspectors who are supposed to be qualified
according to international standards. However, in EU
level, for example the problem of different inspection
approaches is evident within each member state
creating a substantial heterogeneity even between
ports of the same country (Graziano, 2008). Although
international standards are setting the qualification of
inspectors, differences among MOU states concerning
inspectors’ knowledge, have raised doubts
encompassing the PSC system as a whole (Graziano,
2008). Moreover, a set of skills is necessary by the part
of inspectors and the crew. This does not mean that
the crew must be qualified in order to exercise a
control but only to be qualified in a manner that can
ameliorate the control and state any false evaluation
during the control. Despite the fact that important
steps have been made to this direction maritime
companies do not qualify appropriately their crews
and as a result inspectors’ qualifications show
deficiencies. Another issue of PSC is that the number
of inspectors has been strongly connected with the
decision of the inspectors to detain a ship (Graziano,
2007). As a consequence, the inspections that are
controlled by shore and by digital systems, provide a
safe decision regarding to the detention of ships.
Furthermore, some PSC are dangerous and for this
reason are exercised in deficient way or are not able to
be exercised at all. In line with this, remote PSC could
be a safer manner of practicing controls in a safer
environment. The subjectivity of the inspectors and
their different level of education still create problems
at the result of the inspections.
4.2 Thoughts On The Advantages And The Challenges Of
The Remote PSC
In the modern era of digitalization remote inspections
are exercised in all the kinds of controls and
inspections on ships, by classification societies,
maritime companies, flag states (such as Liberia) and
by port states. However, careful steps should be taken
in order to strengthen inspections and transfigure the
disadvantages of the on-site inspections with physical
appearance of inspectors to advantages of remote
inspections. At this point, it is essential to be noted
that the IMO tried first through the code International
Safety Management Code for the safe Operation of
Ships and for Pollution Prevention (“ISM Code”) to
ensure maritime safety and security by creating
special obligations to shipping companies. The Safety
Management System (“SMS”) which is part of ISM
Code, consists a system ensuring the maritime safety
on board a ship and it is installed by the company
providing shore-based support. Also, it creates direct
responsibility on shore side management. However,
although maritime safety is ensured within the
framework of the shipping company that operates the
vessels, it is important to study further than the
distant and shore-based control and support from the
company, and focus on more objective inspections
that are exercised by the port state.
Firstly, it is necessary to be stressed that in the case
of remote PSC new operational functions will be
possible, such as the web-based video communication
that offers the ability to liaise the inspector with the
ship’s crew. Moreover, the remote PSC surveys can
minimize the subjectivity of the inspections’ surveys,
provided that the surveys are transparent and liable to
be reviewed from the ship owner, the crew, the flag
state and the classification society. As a consequence,
all the mentioned participating parties could
participate in the procedure, answer immediately to
any question of the inspector or correct directly any
deficiency that will be probably found on the vessel.
This participation could ensure the transparency of
the procedure, offer a more simple and
comprehensive way of exercising the PSC and lead to
more safe and accurate conclusions. However, it
should be underlined that there is a need for a
regulatory framework for remote controls with the
initiative of international organizations and the
participation of port states and flag states. Moreover,
it could be discussed whether robots could exercise
the inspections instead of humans. In this case, it
could be supported that artificial intelligence and
appropriate software could take the place of human
competences and conception. Nevertheless, the
replacement of inspectors with robots must be done
carefully and be scheduled in a way that software
takes into account different circumstances that are
happening on board a ship. Furthermore, a
comprehensive remote inspection PSC checklist and
procedure should be planned by port states in order
to ensure the framework of the procedures of PSC.
Furthermore, measures of digital secure also must
be taken so that the risk assessment in PSC will be
minimized. In this context, databases of PSC could be
easily used during the inspections so that the risk
assessment from the part of the inspector will be
minimized. The white list has also set a global
instrument of information regarding the application
of international conventions concerning maritime
safety, decent living and working conditions on board
a ship and the protection of maritime environment.
Hence, it could be said that in the case of a remote
PSC it will be easier to have access in the inspection
database, such as the SafeseaNet or the
white/grey/black list which is published in the Paris
MOU annual report and exercise the inspection at the
same time of regarding at the information provided
by these lists.
Finally, in remote PSC the deficiencies of the
inspections could be easily detected as far as all the
information of an inspection can be controlled at the
real time of the inspection. In this vein, it could be
stressed that probable deficiencies of the inspections
could be corrected at the real time of the inspection.
Moreover, with distant inspections it is easy to
construct combined databases that will lead to the
harmonization of the PSC authorities’ databases.
Nevertheless, despite the advantages of remote PSC,
the international maritime community should focus
on maintaining some advantages of PSC with physical
presence such as the consultative role of the inspector
during the inspection.
The control of the ships is firstly a duty of the flag
state. However, PSC seems to be the solution to the
ambivalent surveys and ensure maritime safety.
Despite the fact that there are many deficiencies in the
PSC procedure such as the lack of uniform application
of inspection standards, lack of appropriate
personnel, problems due to subjective opinion of PSC
officers in case of vessel detention, differences in
training of inspectors, asymmetrical inspecting
behavior, motivated the international shipping
community to look for effective efforts in order to
correct the deficiencies of PSC. Recently, urgent
situations such as COVID-19 imposed the necessity of
remote controls at the level of classification societies’
control and flag states’ control. In this vein, it could be
sustained that the key to the PSC fulfillment is the
application of modern technologies on PSC
procedures. For this reason, international maritime
community should enhance the ways of practicing
PSC by distance and with the help of digitalization.
For this purpose, the relevant international
organizations and all the parties of shipping industry
should attempt to regulate the remote PSC procedures
at international level. For example, it could be
supported that the participation of more parties could
ensure the objectivity of controls and better results on
maritime safety because multidisciplinary teams that
exercise the PSC can lead to more structured
inspection procedures.
From one side it seems that the deficiencies in PSC
procedures overwhelm the aims of this international
regime, and from the other side it appears that the
regression in control procedures is a part of the past
and that new technologies and computing will
demand its place in the inspections’ procedure. It
could be noted that the era of smart ships and smart
ports is demanding for “smart controls” too. Above
all, it must be noted that remote PSC became a
necessity and the shipping world cannot ignore it but
focus on the better way of exercising these controls
under an internationally accepted legal framework
that will be based on the experience of the past and
the challenges of the future.
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