Flag State: Ships must be running so that shipowners can keep trading without interruption by COVID-19, says Liberian Registry

For Flag State administrations, it is all about speed of response and quality of service. Whatever the global emergency, we have to keep the ships running so that shipowners can keep trading without interruption.

Covid-19 has changed everything. This has highlighted the limitations of companies across the globe. This is especially true for Flag States when the reliance on a global network has become so vital. Flag States need to have a coordinated network of global representation, with clear autonomy for those offices so that they can provide the best, fastest, and most cost-effective service locally whenever it is needed.

Alfonso Castillero, COO of the Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry (LISCR), said this during an interview conducted by RINA (Registro Italiano Navale).

According to Alfonso Castillero in the statement, we had already identified this trend before Covid-19, but the pandemic has confirmed it. Thankfully we had a fully integrated network of 28 global offices in place, and each one was able to support the other as and when needed.

Decentralisation means that in an emergency you can move quickly to Plan B, or to Plan C. We lived this first hand, and it has been a validation of this model we have employed.

Decentralisation also requires investment in technology. In fact, this may be one area where Covid-19 ushers in positive change: shipping can sometimes be slow to change its culture, but Covid-19 has shown that investing in technology in shipping is an undeniable reality.

Remote surveys have been one of the most visible new technologies used during the pandemic. One of the reasons we have seen greater take-up is that Port State Control has shifted its outlook. Previously, both shipowners and Port State Control were reluctant to give up physical surveys, but with the pandemic, their approach has changed.

In our case, RINA played a key role. LISCR trialled several different software packages and platforms and found theirs to be the best. We suspect that once the pandemic retreats, there will be a return to physical surveys, but within 5-10 years we expect remote surveys to dominate. In the interim, the industry will gain more experience and be able to compare the results of physical and remote surveys, giving stakeholders more confidence.

There are still some restrictions and limitations: noise and a lack of internet coverage can still prevent remote surveys in certain areas of some ships. So, remote surveying will require a commitment from shipowners to ensure there is connectivity in all parts of a ship, which will of course require investment. But I truly believe in 5-10 years remote surveys could become the norm.

Another technology we are promoting is LISCR’s Dynamic Detention Prevention application. This is an automated Port State Control (PSC) risk assessment system that focuses on preparedness before Liberian vessels enter into the port, allowing owners and operators to ensure they are in compliance, and prepared for port state control boarding.

The system calculates and assigns a PSC boarding risk category to all 4,500+ Liberian-flagged vessels, which allows us to focus our efforts on vessels that are more likely to have a PSC boarding, detention, or deficiency. The score for each vessel adjusts in real-time based on the port which the vessel is entering. For instance, a vessel may be categorized as low risk for boarding in Singapore, while the same vessel may be high risk for boarding in Houston. We are the only Flag State administration to offer such a product, which is free of charge, and believe it is a true gamechanger.

The advent of Covid-19 has been, commercially-speaking, challenging for the Flag State administrations.

Shipowners need everything done ‘yesterday’, and all parties are constantly having to adapt to restrictions, requirements, and other Covid-related hurdles on a daily basis It is Flag State’s responsibility to intervene to maintain safety so that the ship can sail. For example, if a crew member falls sick and has to go ashore, we will work with the owners to see if the vessel can be exempt from waiting for that crew member to be returned to the vessel, enabling the ship to sail.

Another example would be if a piece of equipment malfunctions onboard and the new parts do not arrive because of Covid-related delays. We will check if the equipment is vital for safe navigation and if the vessel can move safely to be repaired.

It is particularly challenging because the usual maritime authorities are not always in charge. For example, it may be the customs authorities, who are not shipping specialists and may make proposals that are not always adapted for shipping.

However, we are able to manage the situation by having top-quality technical knowledge in-house. That means former Port State Control or Classification Society surveyors or former masters. You also need the best technology, and the best service – we are always striving to meet clients’ needs. This overlapping of the right people with the right technology has been the key to success for us.

It is in times like this that you see the value of Flag State administrations and Classification Societies. After all, anything that happens onboard is our responsibility. We are prepared to meet these challenges because we have the expertise to find common sense and practical solutions.

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