The Black/Grey/White Lists of the Paris and Tokyo MOUs are a well-established ship-targeting tool with port state control regimes. Unsurprisingly the lists have also been used by the industry (some might even say ‘highjacked’) as a measure of flag quality, not least by those administrations which appear near the top of the White Lists.
For me there is no question that the publication of the lists, especially the Black List, has focused the attention of some flag states to improve their oversight of ships flying their flag. For some flag states it was a requirement of entry into the MOU regime and into the European Union to shift to the White List. The last decade has seen a shift of many flags from the Paris MOU’s Black List to its White List, notably Panama, Cyprus and Malta. This means that there has been an improvement in the detention rate of ships under those flags reflecting an improvement in standards. The world’s top 20 flags by gross tonnage are now all on the White List of both MOUs and by this measure the Black/Grey/White list has been a success.
But has the list lost its relevance as a targeting tool? The latest Black/Grey/White list just published as part of the Paris MOU’s 2013 Annual Report shows that there is only one sizeable flag, St Vincent and Grenadines, on the Black List and no sizeable flags on the Grey List. Most of the ships trading to Europe now fly flags which are on the White List, so flag is seldom a criterion for more frequent inspection under ‘High Risk’ status and in most cases contributes to, though doesn’t guarantee, a ‘Low Risk’ status.
The BGW list is based on the detention rate for each flag (number of detentions divided by number of inspections) compared to a benchmark detention rate of 7% which was decided by the Paris MOU Committee and has been unchanged since the list was first conceived in 1999. A standard statistical measure is then used to determine how far above or below that benchmark a particular flag’s performance sits – this is the so-called Excess Factor. The explanation of the factor can be found in the Paris MOU’s annual reports but essentially it takes into account the sample size of each flag and gives some ‘benefit of doubt’ for flags with small samples. So for instance Tuvalu has a detention rate of 11.9% (5 detentions from 42 inspections 2011-2013) and is on the Grey List while St Vincent and Grenadines has a lower detention rate of 9.7% (87 detentions from 1004 inspections 2011-2013) but appears on the Black List – this is because Tuvalu had just 42 inspections over that period while St Vincent and Grenadines had 1004. At the other end of the scale – the top of the White List – the ‘benefit of doubt’ works against the flags with small samples. This is why flags such as Thailand with just 48 inspections and no detentions do not find themselves top of the White List. While this is sound statistical methodology there is also a certain logic – performance (in any field) cannot be judged on a small sample while those flags with many inspections, but few detentions, have ‘proven’ their quality.
In the end targeting is not an absolute. Port state MOUs agree on the level of resource they will devote to inspection – it’s then a case of deciding where best to channel that resource. Most agree that flag is one of the criteria that should be used – previously it was simply those flags which had above- average detention rates. For the Paris MOU the flag criterion is now a much less significant one that it was a decade ago. The simple solution would be to reduce the benchmark. Some could reasonably argue that that would be ‘moving the goal posts’ and unfair when flags have worked hard to improve their performance. Others might say that a level of detention thought acceptable and realistic a decade or so ago is no longer valid and that the bar should be raised. I tend to agree with the latter but that’s a decision for the committees of the MOUs.
Paul Owen – Senior Consultant at Regs4ships