In the shipping industry, the flag of a ship refers to the state in which the shipowners or shipping companies have registered it. Registered ships are therefore bound by the laws and regulations of the maritime authority of the country concerned, for example in terms of taxation, ship safety or labor laws to which the crew is subject.
The figures from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) show that the vast majority of global shipping is carried out under flags of convenience - i.e. by ships registered in a country other than the country of actual ownership - in order to avoid a number of standards, regulations, controls and taxes.
Three of these flags of convenience, Panama, Liberia and the Marshall Islands, are by far the most represented in the world fleet. In 2022, they jointly accounted for 44.3 percent of the world's cargo capacity. In comparison, merchant vessels registered in China, the world's largest exporting country, accounted for only 5.2 percent of total capacity. Other frequently used flags of convenience include Malta (5.2 percent of capacity) and the Bahamas (3.3 percent).
Written by: Tristan Gaudiaut
Translated by: Anna Fleck