Schiferlie Port State Control deficiencies by RSchiferli - 02 small

New Initiatives to Tackle Sub-standard Shipping

Preliminary figures from the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control (Paris MoU) show 2018 saw the lowest number of detentions since 2011. Yet, there is more work to be done. Among other things, the Paris MoU pleads for new inspection regimes and strict global enforcement of regulations.

The 2018 figures indicate that the average detention percentage over 2018 has decreased substantially compared with previous years (2018: 3.15 per cent; 2017: 3.82 per cent). In 2018, there were only 566 detentions, against 685 in 2017. This is the lowest figure since 2011, when the New Inspection Regime was introduced. 


The right of port states to inspect foreign ships (control) has been embedded in most international maritime conventions. The 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), for example, states that ‘the officer carrying out the control shall take such steps as will ensure that the ship shall not sail until it can proceed to sea without danger to the passengers or the crew’. This can be done if ‘there are clear grounds for believing that the condition of the ship and its equipment does not correspond substantially with the particulars of that certificate’.

Amoco Cadiz Leads to First PSC on a Regional Basis

Although individual port states have exercised these rights on a limited scale, the grounding of the tanker Amoco Cadiz in 1979 on the coast of Brittany, France, was the cause for developing port state control (PSC) on a harmonised and regional basis in Europe. This resulted in the “Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control” (MoU) agreed by fourteen states, which entered into force on 1 July 1982. 

At first, international organisations, classification societies and ship owners were very sceptical of this initiative to verify compliance with international maritime requirements on board ships. European port states were suspected of taking protective measures and using their rights as an economic instrument. Although it has taken a number of years, the maritime sector is now largely supportive of PSC, in particular to create and maintain a level playing field in the sector.

Other Areas Follow Suit

With the MoU being the only serious regional effort to enforce international requirements, it was convenient for sub-standard ships to move their activities towards other areas in the world. In particular, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Indian Ocean, West Africa and Latin America were areas of choice. With the support of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), these areas were encouraged to establish a harmonised system of PSC as well. This resulted in the new agreements being established from 1992 onward. 

Nine Regional Port State Control Agreements

Currently, there are nine regional agreements active. When the Tokyo MoU was established, the name of the first MoU was changed into Paris Memorandum on Port State Control. The nine PSC agreements are:

  1. The Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control (Paris MoU), signed in Paris, France, on 26 January 1982.
  2. Latin American Agreement on Port State Control (Viña del Mar Agreement), signed in Viña del Mar, Chile, on 5 November 1992.
  3. The Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control in the Asia-Pacific Region (Tokyo MoU), signed in Tokyo, Japan, on 1 December 1993.
  4. The Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control in the Caribbean Region (Caribbean MoU), signed in Christ Church, Barbados, on 9 February 1996.
  5. The Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control in the Mediterranean Region (Mediterranean MoU), signed in Valletta, Malta, on 11 July 1997.
  6. The Indian Ocean Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control (Indian Ocean MoU), signed in Pretoria, South Africa, on 5 June 1998.
  7. The Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control for the West and Central African Region (Abuja MoU), signed in Abuja, Nigeria, on 22 October 1999.
  8. The Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control in the Black Sea Region (Black Sea MoU), signed in Istanbul, Turkey, on 7 April 2000.
  9. The Riyadh Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control (Riyadh MoU), signed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 30 June 2004.

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has a national Port State Control regime. 

Basic PSC Activities

During the first years of operation, the PSC activities of the Paris MoU were limited to inspecting foreign ships every six months. Initially, PSC activities were of a more basic nature, focussing on “the relevant instruments” in force at that time: the International Convention on Load Lines (LL), SOLAS, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships (MARPOL) and the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), as well as working and living conditions on board (International Labour Organization (ILO) 147).

Widened and Deepened Scope

However, with new international conventions entering into force, the scope did not only widen, but also deepen. Control on operational requirements was introduced to verify the performance of the crew during drills. The new Annexes to MARPOL, the International Safety Management Code (ISM Code), International Ship and Port facility Security Code (ISPS) requirements, the Maritime Labour Convention and the Ballast Water Management Convention have had a significant impact on PSC inspections. All international maritime conventions with PSC provisions are now “relevant instruments” for most MoUs.

New Inspection Regime (NIR)

Gradually, the Paris MoU expanded from fourteen to 27 member authorities, thereby increasing the “reach” of PSC beyond the European Union. A major step towards a risk-based inspection regime was introduced in 2011, with the so-called New Inspection Regime (NIR). One of the main objectives was to reduce the inspection burden on ships. 

Taking into account the performance of the ISM Company, each ship was assigned a risk profile, resulting in a classification of “low risk”, “standard risk” or “high risk”. Based on these new criteria, ships were selected for inspection by an information system (the THETIS information system, provided by the European Maritime Safety Agency, EMSA). 

Sanctions to refuse ships from Paris MoU ports (“banning”) were extended to all ship types. Co-operation with the other MoUs was also intensified over the years and observer status to the IMO and ILO has been significant in creating acceptance on a global level.

White, Grey and Black List

Only once per year, the results of PSC inspections are published in an annual report. With the introduction of the Internet, more (inspection) results and information could be made available to the maritime community and the public.

In order to make better use of resources, it was agreed to publish a “Black List” of poor performing flag states, which was later on changed into the “White, Grey and Black List”. A similar ranking was also introduced for “recognised organisations” (ROs or classification societies). A “target factor” was a first step towards inspecting ships by priority and depart from the six month routine.

NIR Results

With the introduction of the NIR, the following results can be noted over the period 2008-2017 according to the 2017 Paris MoU annual report:

  • Total number of inspections reduced from roughly 24,000 to 18,000.
  • Number of individual ships remained stable at about 15,000.
  • Number of detentions dropped from about 1200 to 700.
  • Number of deficiencies dropped from roughly 80,000 to 41,000.
  • Detention percentages dropped from roughly five per cent to four per cent.
  • Number of ships refused access increased from six (2010) to 33 (2017).

These figures indicate that the NIR has been effective. With a reduction of the total number of inspections, the total number of inspected ships has been consistent. Shipowners operating “Low Risk Ships” are subject to less inspections, while shipowners operating “High Risk Ships” are not only subject to more inspections, but also to “Expanded Inspections”.

The success of the NIR has also been extended to other PSC regions: the Tokyo MoU, Black Sea MoU and Indian Ocean MoU.

Top Five Deficiencies

Although the overall results have been very positive, sub-standard ships are still a reality these days. Traditionally the top categories of deficiencies are:

  1. safety of navigation;
  2. fire safety;
  3. working and living conditions;
  4. lifesaving appliances; and
  5. certificates and documentation.

All PSC inspections include verification of certificates and records.

The Best and Worst Flags and ROs

Since PSC is often referred to as a “second line of defence”, the primary responsibility of safety of shipping is with the shipowners, the flag states and ROs. In particular, flag states and ROs (recognised by the flag state) are responsible for statutory surveys and certification of ships. Most of them are performing very well and are included in the “White List” or “High performance RO list”.

The best performing flags in 2017 were: 

  • France; 
  • the Cayman Islands, UK; 
  • the Netherlands; 
  • Denmark; and 
  • the United Kingdom.

ROs with the highest performance in 2017 were: 

  • the American Bureau of Shipping; 
  • Lloyd’s Register; 
  • DNV-GL; 
  • Bureau Veritas; and 
  • the Korean Register of Shipping.

Unfortunately, some flags and ROs show (a consistent) poor performance. The poorest performing flags in 2017 were:

  • Congo; 
  • the Comoros;
  • Togo; 
  • Tanzania; and 
  • Moldova.

ROs with the poorest performance in 2017 were: 

  • the Panama Shipping Register; 
  • the Shipping Register of Ukraine; 
  • the International Register of Shipping; 
  • the National Shipping Adjuster; and 
  • the Venezuelan Register of Shipping.

In many cases there is a direct link between the poorly performing flags and ROs. The Paris MoU has been bringing this correlation to the attention of the IMO Sub Committee on Implementation of International Instruments for a number of years.

Preliminary Results of the Paris MoU over 2018

Although the official results will not be available until July 2019, pending approval by the Paris MoU PSC Committee in May, the following preliminary results (information obtained from may be noted:

  • total number of inspections: 17,952;
  • total number of detentions: 566;
  • average detention percentage: 3.15 per cent;
  • High Risk Ships: 10 per cent;
  • Standard Risk Ships: 2.7 per cent;
  • Low Risk Ships: 1.6 per cent;
  • total number of deficiencies: 40,368;
  • total number of detainable deficiencies: 3171; and
  • total number of ISM deficiencies: 1911 (322 detainable).

Ship types with a low detention percentage:

  • passenger ship: 1.0 per cent;
  • chemical tanker: 1.3 per cent; and
  • gas carrier: 1.3 per cent.

Ship types with high detention percentage:

  • lifestock carrier: 11.9 per cent;
  • general cargo: 6.3 per cent; and
  • refrigerated cargo: 3.5 pert cent.

The best performing flags with no detentions (based on zero detentions and number of inspections ratio in 2018) were: 

  • Bermuda; 
  • Luxembourg;
  • Ireland; 
  • Spain; and 
  • Japan.

The worst performing flags (based on detentions and number of inspections ratio in 2018) were:

  • Albania; 
  • Tuvalu; 
  • Ukraine; 
  • Azerbaijan; and 
  • Sierra Leone.

The highest numbers of deficiencies (total/detainable) were in the areas of:

  • ISM related 1911/322;
  • fire doors/openings in fire resisting divisions 1057/79;
  • nautical publications 811/53;
  • charts 693/77; and
  • oil record book 661/11.

The vast majority of all inspections carried out by the Paris MoU took place on “High Risk Ships”, followed by “Standard Risk Ships” and “Low Risk Ships”.

Effectiveness of ISM Code May Be Questioned

Deficiencies related to the ISM Code have been the highest of all deficiencies recorded in 2018 according to these preliminary figures. This is an unfortunate development, which could raise questions regarding the effectiveness of the ISM Code on certain ships.

Restricted visibility from the bridge could result in a detention.

Further Harmonisation and Training Essential

When looking ahead, there are a number of developments that will be significant for the future of PSC. Several stakeholders will play a role in these developments or will be affected by them including the regional PSC agreements; flag states; ROs; shipowners; industry organisations; the European Commission; the IMO; and the ILO.

Although each of the PSC agreements have their own regional priorities and commitments, there is a substantial difference in the policy of PSC and performance. A number of MoUs have progressed to a “New Inspection Regime”, while a number of other MoUs have basically maintained stationary in their development. In order to be more effective on an inter-regional level, further harmonisation will be required and more training of PSC Officers (PSCOs) will be essential.

Progressively Forward

The final declaration of the third Joint Ministerial Conference on Port State Control of the Paris and Tokyo MoU, which took place on 2-4 May 2017 in Vancouver, can be used to further strengthen PSC. When all MoUs embrace the outcome and coordinate the implementation of actions agreed upon by the Ministers, it will move PSC in a progressive forward direction. 

List of Actions

The Paris and Tokyo MoU have already prepared a prioritised list of actions to be implemented, which will be considered by their Committees in 2019. The following actions could be implemented at an inter-regional level (not in order of priority):

  • implementation of an “NIR” by all MoUs;
  • refusal of access (banning) or similar measures, such as “Underperforming Ships” (Tokyo MoU);
  • refusal of access applicable to all flags;
  • new method of calculating flag and RO performance;
  • reduction of the administrative burden for PSC on board;
  • more uniform training for and assessment of PSCOs;
  • reward ships and companies for outstanding performance;
  • full transparency on inspections and procedures;
  • publication of “Detention Review Panel” cases;
  • mutual acceptance of inspections between MoUs to reduce inspection burden;
  • implementation of an ISO9001 quality assurance system for all regional agreements;
  • audit of PSC inspections to improve quality and harmonisation;
  • more active role in international organisations; and
  • investigate any allegations of corruption and take appropriate action.

Several of these and other policy developments have also been agreed by the Paris MoU and will be implemented within the next few years. These include:

  1. The calculation of flag state performance will be changed significantly. Currently, some flags stay “under the radar” due to the size of their fleet or limited number of PSC inspections. They are not listed in any of the performance lists. For quality ships, this implies they cannot benefit from the “Low Risk Ship” status. Ships with a poor performance record are currently not subject to banning. Some flag states with a large register and a relatively high detention percentage can still appear on the “White List” due to the current calculation method. The new calculation method will address these issues and result in some (significant) changes in flag performance.
  2. The calculation method of RO performance will also change fundamentally. Currently, RO performance is assessed during the PSC inspection by the PSCO. In the future, the assessment will be made by the information system based on the relation between the detainable deficiency, the certificate, the flag state and the RO. RO performance will be calculated in line with the flag state performance tables.
  3. There will no longer be a “ranking” of flags and ROs in the future. They will be listed in alphabetical order within their performance category. In other words: The “White-Grey-Black List” will disappear in the future.
  4. Currently, refusal of access (banning) to Paris MoU ports is limited to ships that have been detained multiple times and fly a flag on the “Grey” or “Black” list. In the future, this will be extended to all flags, since a significant number of ships flying a “White” flag would also qualify for banning.

Level Playing Field and Global Enforcement

Hopefully, other MoUs will follow these Paris MoU initiatives in order to maintain a level playing field in the maritime industry. New international requirements will need strict global enforcement when they enter into force. In particular with regard to the Ballast Water Management Convention and the 0.5 per cent sulphur limit on 1 January 2020.

The galley can be an indication for the well-being of the crew.

Lot of Work to Be Done

When considering the above figures and developments, it can be concluded that there still is a lot of work to be done by the regional agreements and the international organisations (IMO and ILO). At the same time, this does not reduce the responsibilities of shipowners, flag states and ROs. It is the shipowner who is responsible for operating ships and is making the decision which flag to fly on the stern and which RO will carry out the surveys and certification (if so delegated by the flag). 

While most shipowners are committed to safety, the protection of the environment and the wellbeing of seafarers, there are still owners operating under a different “business model”. They register their ships willingly under “Black Listed” flags (or flags without any performance level), using poor performing ROs. This is a practice which is no longer acceptable in the 21st century.


This article was written by Richard Schiferli and was published in SWZ|Maritime's May 2019 issue. Mr Schiferli is a Master Mariner, maritime consultant and founder of Schiferli Maritime Consultancy. For 21 years, up to October 2018, he was Secretary General of the Paris MoU. Read the full May issue online? Subscribe to SWZ|Maritime today. 

Picture (top): Boat drills may be part of a PSC inspection.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.

Commenting on this post has been disabled.