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VERIFY: Yes, cruise ships are often registered in foreign countries

Debate over whether or not cruise lines should receive bailouts has often included discussion on where cruise ships are registered.

Amidst the economic fallout occurring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, several industries are seeking financial help from the federal government.

One of these is the cruise line industry. Their requests for bailouts, however, have not come without controversy.

Much of the debate over whether or not cruise companies should receive bailouts has centered over a claim that many of the ships aren’t registered in the United States. They’re flying flags of foreign countries.

THE QUESTION

Are cruise ships registered in foreign countries?

THE ANSWER

Yes. Although some cruise companies are headquartered in the United States, they often register their ships in foreign countries.

WHAT WE FOUND

Carnival, for example, is headquartered in Miami. Yet, several of its ships, including the Carnival Breeze, Carnival Dream, Carnival Conquest, Carnival Elation and Carnival Ecstasy fly under the Panama flag. 

This isn’t uncommon. The Disney Wonder is registered with the Bahamas. The Celebrity Apex is registered with Malta. The Caribbean Princess is registered with Bermuda.

In fact, a 2015 report from the Cruise Lines International Association said that 90% of commercial vessels calling on U.S. ports fly a flag other than the American flag. “Therefore, vessels operating with international registries are not unique to the cruise industry,” the CLIA noted.

An analysis, from Caitlin E. Burke of the University of Florida, on legal issues regarding cruise ships noted that cruise lines have been flying under other flags as early as the 1920s when they re-flagged in Panama to avoid prohibition laws and sell alcohol on ships.

The CLIA cited American restrictions as their reasons for registering their ships in other countries. They said U.S. flag vessels are required to have Americans as at least 75% of their on-board personnel, they must be owned by an American and they must be built in the United States.

Critics of this practice say cruise lines do this to circumvent American labor laws and taxes. Much of the legal study cited above focuses on this and notes that while U.S. laws typically don't apply on board and passengers are under maritime law. 

Regardless of the reason, it’s true that American cruise lines often register their ships in foreign countries.

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