There are many reasons why merchant ships have sailed under "flags of convenience": to smuggle liquor and bypass legal controls during Prohibition, to supply allies and circumvent U.S. neutrality laws during World War II, and, in recent decades, to escape high taxes and labor rates. Panama was for long the favorite flag of convenience; now Liberia, strongly encouraged by the United States, has become the foremost. This lively and thorough investigation of a little-understood phenomenon makes it clear that the practice of foreign registry raises troublesome questions about "effective control" of ships and responsibility for cargo, which are potentially grave in an era of large supertanker fleets, oil spills and sensitive international relationships.
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