When applying for jobs in international waters, pay special attention to vessels that may be flying Flags of Convenience (FOC). According to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), when ”beneficial ownership and control of a vessel is found to lie elsewhere than in the country of the flag the vessel is flying, the vessel is considered as sailing under a flag of convenience.”
FOC vessels pose a significant threat to maritime workers for various reasons.
- Working conditions can be unsafe. Oftentimes the FOC vessels are older than other vessels and, as a result, can yield unsafe working environments. Additionally, because FOC vessels are often registered with countries that do not have strict regulations, casualties tend to be higher.
- Basic rights are overlooked. Basic rights, such as those afforded under the Jones Act, are not granted to employees of FOC vessels.
- Legal trade regulations are ignored. FOC have the ability to manipulate records and legal documents in order to operate outside the law and conduct illicit trade such as drug smuggling and human trafficking. Seafarers working on FOC ships may unknowingly be involved with such illegal activities and could potentially be convicted for those crimes.
- Pay scales are reduced. The rules on pay scale will vary as it depends on the nation of the FOC ship’s registration. Ship owners can trick their employees out of their rightful wages under the geise of following the rules. There are numerous cases reported of this, and, unfortunately, there is no legal recourse available to seafarers who are abused in this way.
- Compensation is denied to injured seafarers. As with seafarer’s other basic rights, FOC ships may refuse to compensate an injured maritime worker, and because of the lack of necessary regulation to enforce such compensation, FOC vessels get away with it.
- Work schedules are improper. These ships can easily force their employees to work more than the legal set hours and can deny seafarers the necessary rest in between shifts.
While conditions on Flags of Convenience are often not suitable for seafarers, this is not always the case as some FOC run legitimate operations.