Why so many shipowners find Panama’s flag convenient (bbc.co.uk)

April 11, 2016

Panama, a small nation of just three million, has the largest shipping fleet in the world, greater than those of the US and China combined. Aliyya Swaby investigates how this tiny Central American country came to rule the waves.


Cheaper foreign labour

Most merchant ships flying Panama’s flag belong to foreign owners wishing to avoid the stricter marine regulations imposed by their own countries.

Panama operates what is known as an open registry. Its flag offers the advantages of easier registration (often online) and the ability to employ cheaper foreign labour. Furthermore the foreign owners pay no income taxes.

About 8,600 ships fly the Panamanian flag. By comparison, the US has around 3,400 registered vessels and China just over 3,700.


Allegations of corruption

Luis Fruto, representative of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) in Panama, says the country turns a blind eye to its “responsibilities in order to acquire higher registration”.

The ITF has led a campaign against flags of convenience since 1958. It considers that Panamanian registration is better than some “from a safety viewpoint, but it remains seriously flawed in areas such as oversight, accident investigation and crew assistance”.

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