The Titan submersible, whose owners told US Coast Guard investigators that the vessel was registered under The Bahamas Maritime Authority, was in fact rejected by the BMA and appears to have been a “stateless” vessel that was not subject to any country’s standards.
‘The Titan was not registered with the Bahamas,” a source close to the inquiry said. “The owners made an attempt, but were turned down by BMA.
“We’re still searching for a flag state, but for now, the vessel is considered stateless,” the source said.
The news is important in that it shows even “flag of convenience” registries saw downsides in the design of the submersible, which imploded and killed the five researchers and tourists seeking to view the Titanic at great depth.
“Flags of convenience” comprise a legal way to maximize ship ownership advantages around inspections and taxation. Few ships in international trade fly the US flag because of more expensive safety, tax and crewing requirements. Instead, the ship owners choose countries like Liberia, Panama or The Bahamas, where regulations are streamlined to favor the owners.
But that does not mean “flag of convenience” standards do not exist. Some, for example, are stricter than the US in maximum ages of vessels. The Bahamas Maritime Authority is home to a number of well-regarded companies and is considered on the “high end” of alternate ship registries. It contains many passenger vessels — a category where standards of care are important.
“The Bahamas register now lists more than 1,500 vessels and constitutes the world’s third largest fleet,” says the BMA web site, “having grown from less than one million gross tons (GRT) in 1983 to more than 27 million GRT today. Among ships on the Bahamian register are Chevron, Exxon International, Maersk Line, Cunard Lines, Texaco, Holland-America Cruises, Finnlines, Teekay Shipping, Lauritzen Reefers, Smit International, the East Asiatic Company and MSC.”
The second factor at play here is the standard of responsibility set by the parent company, which is based in Everrett, Washington, in the US.
It is not known how the confusion about the registration with the Bahaman flag registry came to occur but knowledge of what flag a ship flies under is basic to the industry and could legally be seen as an indication of negligence or disinterest in safety standards.
“It’s sort of like saying you have a New York license plate and driver’s license — and then saying, oops, no, I didn’t pass the test,” said one observer.
The issue of whether the Titan was registered in any country or was “stateless” could have a bearing on eventual investigation findings. Flag registries all have some safety standards that must be met.
Ocean Gate, the owner of the Titan, is headquartered in the United States in
Everett, Washington, and it is likely the US Coast Guard and other agencies from Canada, the NTSB and the UK would convene there.
The BMA to date has had no comment.