For the third straight year, the Greek merchant marine flag is included on the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) so-called «white list.» Last year, out of 1,524 ships inspected in ports around the world, 74 (4.9 percent) were grounded for violating safety and environmental standards set by the IMO. This is below the 6 percent limit set by IMO for inclusion on the white list. There is also a gray list, as well as a black list. The white list includes the highest-quality flags; a total of 28 countries are on that list, including China, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Marshall Islands, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the United States. Another 26 countries are on the black list, including two newcomers to the European Union, Cyprus and Malta. In Cyprus’s case, 3,792 ships were inspected during the 2001-2003 period and 300 were found to have violated IMO standards. In the case of Malta, 4,696 ships were inspected and 364 (7.75 percent) were grounded, slightly above the limit for inclusion on the black list. «Since they joined the EU, these two countries are making efforts to improve the quality of their merchant fleets and are expected to join the gray list and, eventually, the white list, along with most of the other EU members,» an IMO source told Kathimerini. Currently, 24 countries are on the gray list, including Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia. A large part of the Greek merchant marine’s presence on the white list is due to the fact that shipowners have invested greatly in the renewal of the fleet. Contracts for the building of 371 new ships have been signed and shipowners had taken out loans worth $13.5 billion to finance their purchases. All these new ships conform to strict IMO safety and environmental standards and will join the Greek flag gradually, over the next five years. Recently, Greek shipowners have been registering an increasing number of their ships under the Greek flag rather than under flags of convenience. According to the Merchant Marine Ministry, during the first half of the year more ships were registered under the Greek flag than left it for flags of convenience. The average age of the registered ships is two years and that of delisted ships, 18 years.