48th Pacific Islands Forum Communique
(c)Tensions in the North Pacific
35.Leaders condemned repeated efforts by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to test nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and the threat posed to Guam, which constitutes a threat to the wider Pacific Islands region. Leaders also agreed on the importance of ensuring the full implementation of relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.
36.Leaders committed to deregistering any DPRK trading or fishing vessels currently flagged on Pacific states’ shipping registers. New Zealand and Australia will assist other member states with intelligence gathering to identify illegally flagged DPRK vessels and offered to off-set the financial burden incurred.
”In September 2012, the Palau Registry was launched with two Chinese gambling ships, adding registering vessels to Palau’s endeavors.”
Whose Convenience? Ann Marlowe、Hurd’s Bank, July 2015
Flagging up fake news
Richard Clayton, chief correspondent | 19 April 2017
Lukner Weilbacher, secretary (minister) at the department of transportation, communication, and infrastructure at the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) had authorised Jash International Maritime Law & Business Management to run the Micronesia International Ship Registry (MISR). Jash took responsibility for appointing a registrar and deputy registrars, seafarer agents, safety inspectors, “and any other personnel and office necessary for the effective promotion of [the registry]”.
Headed notepaper from the Office of the Secretary, dated 2 October 2015, and signed by Weilbacher himself. Ignore, for the moment, the obvious error that the name Weilbacher is significantly different from the name “Welbacker” as it appears in the opening paragraph and in the email address.
Move on 16 months to February 2017, and in a circular issued by MISR to shipowners, operators, managers, seafarers, and recognised organisations, chief engineer Alfred S – as a director of MISR – confirmed the initial authorisation in 2015. He confirmed that Micronesia “has not yet signed the IMO membership to receive various benefits from the world maritime community neither had ratified any required international convention”, nevertheless the efficient and effective MISR technical team has played “a very important role in promoting the FSM and its ship registry in very systematic procedures.”
However, necessary amendments to the National Maritime Act of 1997 had been delayed and, “for other official reasons”, the transport, communication, and infrastructure department suggests holding back from seafarer certification because “it may create some problem in smooth sailing of vessel and seafarers certification too.”
How active has MISR been while waiting for the act to be updated? Very active, according to flag watchers at IHS Markit. On 6 March this year, my colleagues contacted Micronesian authorities after a spate of ship registrations began to claim the FSM flag. This was despite legislation that allowed only a closed register, with no foreign trading vessels or foreign-owned ships authorised. “The net result was a total of 153 vessels that were registered illegally. The Flag Administration only has 49 vessels registered (14 of which have no IMO number),” a report to IMO stated.
It might come as no surprise that within two weeks of that intervention, 80 of these 153 vessels suddenly transferred to other flags: Belize, Togo, Sierra Leone, and Indonesia. When IHS Markit made contact with MISR through its authentic-looking website, with all the usual contact details and vessel registration procedures, we were informed that our selected vessel had been “provisionally registered and is now under some other flag”.
In a communication from Craig Reffner, assistant attorney general at the FSM Department of Justice, IHS Markit was told, “The vast majority of the vessels on your list appear to be illegally flagged in the FSM, as the FSM does not operate an international ship registry or a registry of convenience.” He continued, “If you happen to obtain any registration documents for these purported FSM flagged vessels, any document that was issued by "Micronesia International Ship Registry" or "MISR" is an indication that the registry is illegal.”
Furthermore, according to the UN Security Council, some of the vessels appearing under the Micronesian flag are being closely monitored as there appear to be North Korean connections. There are also alleged connections between North Korea and Fiji, which has suddenly received a large number of vessels under its flag registry. As for Micronesia, the flag administration in Fiji informed IHS Markit that they operate a closed register, do not register vessels that trade internationally, and therefore these vessels were not registered under their flag. Before it was taken down, the Fijian Flag Administration website revealed a list of vessels that supposedly were registered in Fiji. The list contained 90 vessels (59 with IMO numbers, 31 without). An article appeared in the Fijian press on 19 January 2017 stating that the local police were investigating.
Then there’s the Democratic Republic of Congo, where flag authorities acknowledged last December that all but 11 vessels shown under their flag lists had been registered without their knowledge or approval. The 11 legally registered vessels were all trading locally or within sheltered waters. IHS Markit has now amended its records accordingly, removing 73 vessels.
A company registered in London’s prestigious Harley Street, with another authentic-looking website, claimed to be the official registration office for vessels flying or seeking to fly the DR Congo flag. Although phone contact details were given on the website, the call went unanswered and potential applicants had to fill in an online form. Further investigation via Companies House in London confirmed a sole director being a citizen of Guinea who is based in Qatar. The website has also now been taken down, probably due to action taken by DR Congo authorities.
Fraudulent flag registration is among IMO’s biggest headaches. Many of the unauthorised entries are fishing vessels, small general cargo vessels, or dredgers. Unless they are properly registered with recognised flag administrations, these ships’ safety and environment protection status cannot be verified. There are plenty of indications of possible underhand intentions. Sierra Leone had two companies claiming to be the legitimate administration: these were investigated, and one is no longer operating; ship registration websites that look authentic but maintain a flaky existence are likely to be flaky in substance; official documents that misspell the name of the signatory should try a little harder.
Contact Richard Clayton at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @rjbclayton