12 October 2011 – Crews on flag-of-convenience ships, like the grounded cargo ship Rena, are forced to work long hours for low pay, the Merchant Service Guild says.
Guild secretary Helen McAra said flag-of-convenience ships – which are registered in countries where there is little enforcement of international labour, safety and environmental regulations – now dominated New Zealand’s coastal shipping.
The Rena made four port calls in the five days before its grounding on Astrolabe Reef near Tauranga, and while in port her captain and officers worked around the clock loading and discharging cargo.
Ms McAra said officers on these ships could be on board for six months or more at a time.
“We are talking low-cost crews from poor countries who probably earn less than the New Zealand minimum wage.”
Flag-of-convenience ships were a vehicle for paying low wages and forcing long hours of work and unsafe working conditions, she said.
“These flag-of-convenience vessels are now effectively New Zealand’s coastal shipping industry. Yet the officers are not necessarily familiar with the unpredictable sea conditions here, nor are they obliged to comply with New Zealand maritime rules and regulations.”
Ships owned in one country but registered in another are described as flying flags of convenience.
More than half the world’s merchant ships are registered in flag-of-convenience states like Panama, Liberia and the Marshall Islands.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation lists 32 flag-of-convenience registries in countries that are unable or unwilling to enforce international labour, safety and environmental laws and regulations.