International Registries in shipping and maritime law

In recent years, the traditional maritime countries have fought back in an endeavour
to repatriate tonnage lost to the open registries. The response of a number of the
traditional maritime nations has been, often in addition to tax and other financial
incentives made available to the shipping sector, to permit the temporary registration
of their vessels under the flags of foreign registries through bareboat charter
arrangements or to establish offshore or international registries, offering many of
the advantages to operators of the open registries, but nonetheless retaining a link
between beneficial ownership or management and the national flag.
In some cases, these offshore or international registries, have emerged as a result
of an accident of history—for example, the Isle of Man registry. In other cases,
the registries have been the creation of the legislator, as in the case of the international
ship registers of Norway (NIS), Germany (GIS), Denmark (DIS), France
(FIS), Italy (Registro Internazionale Navale), and, in the case of Portugal, the
Madeira Shipping Register (MAR). The purpose of these international registers,
which exist in parallel with the ordinary national registers, is to halt the decline of
the merchant fleets of the traditional maritime powers by allowing shipowners to
operate in a low-cost environment whilst retaining a connection with the national
flag. These initiatives have enjoyed some degree of success. The retention of the
national flag preserves the jurisdiction of the maritime power over vessels owned
by its nationals—important for regulatory, fiscal, and strategic reasons—and mitigates
the need for the subsidies and other forms of financial assistance to the shipping
sector which have traditionally characterized maritime policy in developed
nations. From the operator’s perspective, the principal benefit of the international
registers is the ability to employ foreign seafarers without being tied to national
wage scales or onerous collective agreements.