The ITF union is getting tough on ship safety in the Mediterranean with a crackdown on 1,000 ships from the four “worst” flags.

Inspectors will board vessels registered in the Cook Islands, Palau, Togo and Sierra Leone to check on safety, maintenance and seafarer welfare over the next eight weeks.

This “army” of personnel will include members of seafarers’ unions and port authorities, the ITF said.

“Substandard shipping in the Mediterranean Sea is driving down seafarers’ wages and conditions, endangering the lives of crew and risking our environment,” said ITF inspectorate coordinator Steve Trowsdale.

“These flags take money from shipowners to register ships that other countries wouldn’t touch. Many are old vessels and are poorly maintained by their owners. Many of these ships are dangerous and should not be trading,” he added.

The blitz comes after new analysis showing the four so-called “flags of convenience” together accounted for more than 100 crew abandoned in the last two years.

The registers have racked up 33 cases of abandonment in three years, the union said.

The ITF also claimed more than $5.5m in wages was not paid by shipowners. The union then had to reclaim this money on seafarers’ behalf.

A total of 5,203 deficiencies were found on board ships.

“These are now the worst flags operating in the Mediterranean Sea,” said Seddik Berrama, general secretary of Algeria’s transport union FNTT and ITF vice president for the Arab World region.

“The world’s major port state control agency groupings have said these flags are not quality.”

46 deficiencies found

The ITF gave the example of a Sierra Leone-flagged general cargo ship, the 5,200-dwt Kassandra (built 1997), detained last August for 23 days in Haifa, Israel, after 46 structural, navigation, fire safety and crew welfare defects were found.

The crew was left without working freezers in searing heat.

All four registers have been contacted for comment.

The Palau International Ship Registry (PISR) said last summer it had registered a “significant” rise in its ranking by the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control.

Following a performance review covering 2019 to 2021, PISR was in the top third tier of the grey list of flag states.