The Guardian November 27, 2002


Spanish oil spill brings a warning to Australian coastal shipping
Yet another environmental tragedy, yet another ship of shame

The oil tanker behind the ecological disaster off the Spanish coast is 
yet another ship of shame flying a flag of convenience. The ageing vessel 
that broke in two over night is the Bahamas-flagged, American-classed, 
Prestige, which is Greek-owned by a company that may or may not be 
registered in Liberia, and chartered by a business that could be Russian or 
Swiss.

Flag of convenience (FOC) ships are flagged in tax havens like Panama, 
Liberia and the Bahamas to avoid scrutiny, labour and safety regulations. 
Often registration is only a matter of a fax, with no proper inspection of 
the ship.

Documentation can also be fraudulent like that exposed by a British 
Guardian journalist who registered a non-existent vessel under the name 
of a known terrorist under the Cambodian flag of convenience over a fax 
machine earlier this year.

In recent times two Australian vessels (the Yarra  now 
Stadacona, The River Torrens, now the Pacific) have 
been registered under the Bahamas flag of convenience as a cheaper, but 
dangerous option. A third vessel, the Wallarah, is now flying the 
Tongan flag of convenience on our coastal trade.

"This latest disaster just goes to show that the Federal Government policy 
of promoting FOC shipping on our coast is just asking for trouble", said 
MUA National Shipping Campaign Co-coordinator Sean Chaffer. "We've had a 
series of near misses this year. Next time we may not be so lucky."

In September the 50,000 tonne Filipino bulk oil carrier, the Aegean 
Falcon, ran aground on a pristine part of the reef near Wednesday 
Island in the Torres Strait, the oil and coal carrier Doric Chariot 
was grounded in July, the ANL Excellence the same month and the 
Bunga Teratai Satu in 2000.


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