7 JULY 1950, Page 6

Panama Sea-Dogs

The statement that shipping under the flag of Panama (the total population of that estimable republic at the last census was 622,576) now occupies fourth place in world tonnage—with 820 vessels, against 159 before the war—is fantastic enough to seem incredible. It is in fact statistically accurate. And there are some reasons for It. The Panama flag covers as many sins as charity. According to the report of a committee just issued by the International Labour Organisation, consisting of one Belgian Government representative, one Dutch employer and one British workers' delegate, Panama shipping legislation includes no regulations regarding accidents, manning, food on board or inspection. Hence the zeal with which shipowners whom restrictions in such fields as these irk seek the generous shelter of the flag of Panama ; for it is not to be imagined that more than an almost invisible fraction of the vessels flying the Panama flag are Panamese-owned, Panamese-commanded or Panamese-manned. Panama, in fact, renders the same sort of service to humanity as Reno, Nevada, does in another sphere. It is not surprising to learn from the committee that 47 per cent. of the ships on the Panama register are thirty years old, and some are obsolete—whatever precisely that may mean. Panama's duty is now plain, and after the publication of the I.L.O.'s report she can hardly evade it. Her merchant-shipping legislation must be brought up to at least the standard set by I.L.O. conventions on the subject.