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PSC inspection at foreign ports and ships preparation- Chemical tanker guide

Port State Control is the process by which a nation exercises authority over foreign ships when those ships are in waters subject to its jurisdiction. The right to do this is derived from both domestic and international law. A nation may enact its own laws, imposing requirements on foreign ships trading in its waters, and nations which are party to certain international conventions are empowered to verify that ships of other nations operating in their waters comply with the obligations set out in those conventions.

The stated purpose of Port State Control in its various forms is to identify and eliminate ships which do not comply with internationally accepted standards as well as the domestic regulations of the state concerned. When ships are not in substantial compliance, the relevant agency of the inspecting state may impose controls to ensure that they are brought into compliance.

chemical tanker navigation at sea
Recently, IMO adopted a resolution providing procedures for the uniform exercise of Port State Control, and regional agreements have been adopted by individual countries within Europe, the European Union, and various East Asian and Pacific nations. A number of North African Mediterranean nations have recently expressed their intention to set up a separate regional agreement in their own area of the world. In addition, some countries such as the United States of America have adopted a unilateral approach to the subject, which nevertheless has the same aims.

Shipowners and operators should take measures to reduce the likelihood that their ships will be subjected to intervention or detention, bearing in mind that increasingly efficient databases will enable the maritime authorities who participate in the growing range of international agreements, memoranda and conventions to exchange information. Being inspected by one state and given a clean bill of health will not necessarily prevent further inspections being made by another maritime authority – and, as information is exchanged between various organisations, noncompliant ships will find it increasingly difficult to continue operations.

However, not all flag states are able to check their ships on a continuous basis when they are away from their own ports, so PSC provides a back-up for monitoring the implementation of international and domestic shipping regulations. Whilst Port State Control as a concept is not new, the increasing number of inspections and the coordination and exchange of data generated from them is a significant development, as is the stated intention of governments and maritime authorities who see it as an effective means of monitoring and implementing international conventions.

It is the owner who is ultimately responsible for all compliance with international and national obligations but it is incumbent upon any state which allows the registration of ships under its flag effectively to exercise jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters. A flag state is required to take such measures as are necessary to ensure safety at sea with regard to construction, maintenance and seaworthiness, manning, labour conditions, crew, training and prevention of collisions of ships flying its flag.

Specifically, ART 94 of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) imposes a duty upon flag states to take any steps which may be necessary to secure compliance with generally accepted international regulations, procedures and practices. This obligation is repeated at Article 27 in relation to oil pollution. This is achieved in the main by the flag state issuing safety certificates often via the classification societies indicating compliance with the principal international conventions. It is these certificates, together with related manning, crew and environmental requirements, which form the basis of Port State Control.

Historically one of a ship’s most important attributes is the flag which it flies and trades under, but recent developments have highlighted the weaknesses inherent in this system. Some of these developments are as much matters of perception as of reality, but in so far as their impact on the viability of the international maritime regime is appreciable, the effect of these perceptions should not be underestimated. They are:


While there is a growing web of international regulations, its development is dependent upon consensus and agreement. Consequently, it has sometimes been necessary to proceed at the pace of the slowest, which leads to delay in implementation. However, it is acknowledged that IMO has achieved impressive and much speedier results in recent years.


Some flag states are seen as not fulfilling their function of ensuring that the owner complies with his obligations. In particular, the growth of registers which have no capability and even less intention of monitoring compliance has led to considerable criticism.


The work of the classification societies has been seen as too easily undermined, although in recent years IACS have done much to improve both perception and reality in this area. All of this has led to the burgeoning development in Port State Control, not as an alternative to “Flag State Control” but as an additional means of compelling owners to comply with international regulations.


Port State Control as a concept is developing worldwide as a means of dealing with the problem of substandard shipping. However, it is important that its development is not viewed in isolation, as it remains one of a series of positive steps which are being taken to ensure that the shipowner trades his ships in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.

The first regional Port State Control agreement, covering Europe and the North Atlantic, was signed in 1982 and is known as the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (Paris MOU). The Latin American Agreement (Acuerdo de Viña del Mar) was signed in 1992; the Asia Pacific Memorandum of Understanding (Tokyo MOU) was signed in 1993.

The Caribbean MOU and the Mediterranean MOU are in the early states of implementation, the latter being signed in July 1997. The Port State Control Committee of the Caribbean MOU, the body charged with implementing the administrative framework necessary to give effect to the agreement, is currently working on the programme needed to collate information, establish a database and technical co-operation programme, as well as train the surveyors and inspectors of the countries involved. The Mediterranean MOU allows for an interim establishment period of two years and the first session of its Port State Control Committee has been scheduled for the end of February 1998.

The Indian Government also announced plans to lead a scheme for the Indian Ocean area.

It would appear that the accepted view is that Port State Control works most effectively if implemented on a regional basis. However, there are examples of nations that are not signatories to a regional agreement but who nevertheless pursue the same aims. For example, the USA exercises its Port State Control authority through the US Coast Guard’s longstanding foreign ship boarding programme, which is now referred to as the Port State Control Programme.

The three “mature” regional agreements for port state inspection are namely– the Paris MOU, the Tokyo MOU and the Latin American Agreement – and, given the importance of the USA as a trading nation and that it often leads the world by example – an outline of the key provisions of the Port State Control programme implemented by the US Coast Guard.

It is clear that Port State Control will continue to be strengthened in existing areas and expanded into new ones.

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