The Flag State, as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), has overall responsibility for the implementation and enforcement of international maritime regulations for all ships granted the right to fly its flag.
However, the Flag State may conduct the larger part of its activities through entities located in other countries.
Most national maritime administrations have other roles, in their capacity as port and coastal states, which may involve the enforcement of regulations with regard to visiting foreign ships. However, in the context of the regulation of shipping, it is a nation’s role as a Flag State that is the first line of defence against potentially unsafe or environmentally damaging ship operations. This is the focus of these guidelines.
The enforcement of IMO rules that apply to the operation of ships is, in the first instance, dependent on IMO member governments in their capacity as flag states. Flag States also have responsibility for the implementation and enforcement of rules adopted by other intergovernmental bodies, including the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Fund. ILO governs standards of seafarers’ employment. The IOPC Fund ensures that victims of any major maritime oil pollution incident receive adequate compensation without undue delay.
The role of a Flag State is probably most clearly defined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
The Role of the Flag State (15kb PDF)
Flag State Performance Table 2015/2016 (428kb PDF)