Panama is still the leading ‘flag state’ for ships registered when it comes to the absolute number of ships, gross tonnage and dead-weight tonnage. Malta is the first European country on place 6.
There is a business practice called ‘Flag of convenience (FOC)’ hereby a ship’s owners register a merchant ship in a ship register of a country other than that of the ship’s owners, and the ship flies the civil ensign of that country, called the flag state.[ Each merchant ship is required by international law to be registered in a registry created by a country, and a ship is subject to the laws of that country, which are used also if the ship is involved in a case under admiralty law. A ship’s owners may elect to register a ship in a foreign country which enables it to avoid the regulations of the owners’ country which may, for example, have stricter safety standards.