The asphalt spill incident in the waters of North Nias provides an important lesson about the negative impact of the flag of convenience. The convenience included in the flag of convenience loosens control over ships which, in turn, complicates matters when they commit violations in a country’s territorial waters.
The MT AASHI ship ran aground in the waters of North Nias, Tugala Oyo District, North Nias Regency, North Sumatra on February 11, 2023. The Gabonese-flagged tanker spilled raw asphalt transportation as far as 27 kilometers, according to reports from several national mass media. Director General of Maritime and Fishery Resources Supervision (Dirjen PSDKP) Laksda TNI Dr. Adin Nurawaluddin, M.Han on 27 February 2023 stated that four follow-ups would be taken following the sinking of the MT AASHI ship. Each is:
Adin said the representative of the tanker owner had appointed PT Nusantara Salvage Indonesia to move the hull of the raw asphalt spill ship.
IOJI assesses that there are at least two important things that should be observed in the spill of raw asphalt in North Nias waters: Port State Control and Flag State Responsibility.
The hull of the MT AASHI ship which was found to be porous indicated that the condition of the ship was not seaworthy. Article 219 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea/UNCLOS) stipulates that port states, at their own request or initiative, are obliged to take administrative action so that ships whose conditions are not seaworthy and have the potential to damage the marine environment that are being are in the port do not go to sea.
The said ship can be allowed to sail only for the sake of repairs to the nearest shipyard so that the problem of unseaworthiness of the ship can be resolved. The ship in question can be allowed to sail if it has been repaired. Furthermore, Article 94 paragraph (3) of UNCLOS stipulates that the ship’s flag state is obliged to ensure, among other things, the seaworthiness of the ship.
In relation to these two things, before concluding that MT AASHI sank due to natural factors, several validation steps are needed.
First, ascertain whether when leaving the port of Khor Fakkan in the United Arab Emirates, the MT AASHI ship has been inspected and the results of the inspection show that this ship is seaworthy.
Second, ascertain whether the flag state of the ship, in this case Gabon, has carried out its effective responsibility for the seaworthiness of MT AASHI.
Third, ascertain whether the wave height in Nias waters on 9-11 February 2023 is in the low, medium or high category to find out whether claims for ship damage due to waves are reasonable or not.
In relation to the flag state of the ship, this incident also provides an important lesson about threats to the marine environment due to the flag of convenience. Flag of convenience is a designation for countries that provide convenience as an incentive for ship owners to register their ships in that country.
Various facilities are provided, including the process of registering ships with lighter, faster and cheaper rates and conditions (even without the need for inspections to reduce operating costs), confidentiality of beneficial owner identities, and ship owners are not required to have genuine links with flag countries, as well as control which are generally relatively weak.
Gabon is a flag of convenience country, because it does not strictly control ships flying its flag. The Gabonese state ship registration administration is even carried out by a private third party, namely Intershipping Services L.L.C.
With all these facts, it is important to ensure the authenticity of the ship’s certificate of registry.