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News: Surge in fraudulent registries

24 October 2019

In light of a spike in fraudulent vessel registrations, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is seeking to combat rogue national flag registries operating without the knowledge of governments they claim to represent.

For instance, the global maritime regulator has recently reported that 73 vessels were unlawfully flying the flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 91 vessels were illegally registered under the flag of Fiji and 150 vessels were unlawfully registered under the flag of the Federated States of Micronesia.

To address this challenge, IMO is developing a comprehensive database of registries on the publicly accessible area of GISIS. The database will contain the names and contact details of the national governmental body/bodies, or authorised/delegated entities in charge of registration of ships. The database will also include information regarding countries which do not operate a ship registry, be it domestic or international.

Members are recommended to note the following IMO best practices:

  • ensure Flag State Administration contact information is up-to-date
  • prospective charterers should utilise the United Nations (UN) Security Council Sanctions List Search webpage
  • verify the relevant information relating to registries of ships in the 'Contact Points' module in GISIS.

Sanctioned ships under the microscope

Since international sanctions have been imposed on countries such as Iran and North Korea to target their nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, some ships have used tactics to avoid these sanctions such as turning off their AIS (an automatic tracking system) or falsely reporting their flag registry. 

The UN Sanctions Committee requires the relevant flag states to de-flag any vessels they have reasonable grounds to believe are involved in activities prohibited by the UN Security Council Resolutions, and other flag states should refuse to register the vessels which have been de-registered for that reason. 

The IMO is intending to develop, in collaboration with the UN Security Council, an easily searchable database that would show vessels which are subject to United Nations Security Council Resolutions. The work is expected to be completed in 2021.