One of the more baffling quirks of the container shipping industry is the fact that a vessel’s owner can register a ship in any country it chooses, regardless of the nationality of the company, the captain, or the crew. Given that option, many owners choose a “flag of convenience,” picking the country with the loosest regulations with regard to, say, safety standards, corporate taxes, or sailors’ wages rather than the countries where they do business.
Containership operator Hapag-Lloyd is now bucking that trend, launching a project to convert several of its vessels to U.S. registry. In April, the German company—which is a longstanding transportation provider to U.S. government agencies—sent its Monrovian-flagged containership Al Bahia to Port Canaveral, Florida, to begin the conversion process. The vessel, which will be renamed the Delaware Express, is the first of five Hapag-Lloyd 6,900 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) containerships scheduled to undergo the U.S. reflagging process at the Florida port over the next several months.
Once the U.S. reflagging process is completed, each vessel will be included in the federal Maritime Security Program (MSP) and made available for use when necessary by the U.S. government while it continues to operate commercially in international trade. The ships will ultimately be staffed with a U.S. captain and crew—a requirement of the MSP program.
The four additional Hapag-Lloyd vessels scheduled for U.S. reflagging at Port Canaveral by mid-August include the Al Kharj (to be renamed the Colorado Express), Al Rawdah (which will become the Hudson Express), Al Hilal (which will be renamed the Missouri Express), and the Mayssan (which will become the Potomac Express).