September 6, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, focuses on the curious fact that “the same Liberia that cannot float a single dugout to patrol its 579-kilometer coastline has the world’s second largest merchant navy,” a fleet including 1,687 large ships amounting to more than 96 million deadweight tons.

Pointing to the ease with which less-than-transparent ship owners and operators can rent the Liberian flag—the website for the Liberian International Shipping and Corporate Registry actually boasts, under a banner marked “special pricing,” that it is “the most competitive of all registries” with the added bonus that “in order to permit you maximum flexibility in taking advantage of both the new fee structure and the benefits of operation under the Liberian flag the Registry shall waive registration fees for ships entering the Registry until further notice, thereby making Liberia one of the least costly alternatives for vessel registration”—Dr. Pham argues:

In the context of the present global war on terrorism, we can no longer afford to compromise with the fiction that all states are equal, even when their capacities to assume the responsibilities of full sovereignty are manifestly not there. Specifically, we need to be assured that the ships sailing the world’s oceans—waters kept open largely by the efforts of the U.S. Navy—are safe, high-quality vessels meeting commonsense environmental safeguards and fair labor standards as well as basic security requirements. We need to know who owns the ships, who operates them, and who crews them, especially if they approach our shores or those of our allies. In short, the bargain-basement “flags of convenience” offered by Liberia and other similarly-situated countries have become quite inconvenient to our overall national security interests.

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “An Inconvenient Flag: Liberia’s Ship Registry in the Age of Global Terrorism,” click here.