There have been a number of recent anecdotal reports linking superyachts registered to the US state of Delaware to increased scrutiny by the international maritime community. There is some confusion, it appears, at least in the public sphere, as to whether or not these vessels are protected by their state of registry when operating internationally.
The state of Delaware is what is known as a ‘non-title’ or a ‘registration only state’. Therefore, no rights of protection are afforded by the United States to vessels baring the Delawarean flag in international waters, yet many of these vessels are domiciled in Europe and its surrounding nations.
Many choose to register their yachts in Delaware because of the speed and relative cost efficiency of the process when compared to more established flags, such as the Red Ensign Group.
“As soon as a Delaware flagged vessel leaves its territorial waters it is in international waters and is, therefore, subject to international standards,” explains Mark Robinson, principle consultant and surveyor at Mark Robinson Maritime Consultants. “However, the State of Delaware does not have powers to issue statutory certification, or require them to be issued, to show maritime compliance as required by MARPOL, SOLAS and other conventions pertinent to International maritime legislation.”
In brief, a Delaware-flagged vessel operating outside of its territorial waters is operating illegally. Should there be an incident, be it a spillage or fatality, the vessel in question will not be covered by its insurance and it will be in direct breach of the international standards set forth by the IMO.
The term ‘seaworthiness’ is used flippantly to describe myriad issues, from leaky hulls to broken compasses, but in its truest sense it relates to the holistic health of a vessel, from crewing to certification. How then can a vessel operating illegally be considered seaworthy?