When you take a cruise, you may or may not notice the flag flying on the top of the ship. If you look, you’ll notice the flag usually isn’t an American one. And if you listen to cruise commercials you may hear the words “ship’s registry,” followed by the name of a country. Likely, you don’t know what that means or how it affects you. But it has a huge impact on cruise safety, and there’s a good reason that you don’t see many flying under the American flag.
What is a Flag of Convenience?
The flags that fly on cruise ships that are from foreign countries are often called “flags of convenience,” because by sailing under them, ships become the territory of that nation, and thus avoid U.S. laws regulations, and taxation. A ship only has to follow the labor codes, environmental rules, and safety standards, of the nation they sail under—almost all of which have lesser and weaker standards than in the U.S.
According to Cruise Lines International Association, 90% of cruises fly under a flag other than an American flag.
And as you may imagine, the countries with the most lax standards tend to be the most popular. Seeking the money that comes with having a major cruise line register under it, many nations have purposely made regulations as lenient as possible.
Also popular with cruise lines are those countries that don’t take a hard look into cruising accidents. After a 2010 Carnival Cruise ship fire, the National Transportation Safety Board was going to investigate. Carnival objected, stating that because they flew under a Panamanian flag, only Panamanian officials could investigate. Why invite the watchful and thorough eye of a U.S. agency, when you can have the Panamanian government look into the problem.
The FBI does have limited jurisdiction to investigate when a U.S. Citizen is the victim of a crime no matter what flag is over the ship. But they rarely do, and even when they do, they have no role in tracking and monitoring cruise ship incidents, or in mandating rule or policy changes on ships to make sure incidents don’t repeat themselves.
Investigations into Incidents can be Non-Existent
Many incidents involving crew members who are not U.S. citizens may never be investigated at all. If an incident is investigated, the investigation is almost always done by the country whose flag flies over the ship. That country is usually one that isn’t known for its diligent law enforcement investigatory skills.
In many countries, just getting a response from law enforcement or a local coast guard can take hours. And often, law enforcement in the flagged country will purposely drag feet or cut corners, wary of creating bad press from its multimillion dollar cruise “client.”
Contact Our Attorneys for Help
Have you been injured on a cruise line? The laws can be complex, and it may be up to you and your lawyer to gather the facts which may be missed by the investigating authorities. Talk to the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your case.