In distant waters and high seas, the shifting of surfaces precludes the drawing of stable boundaries – thus the ocean floor and its watery covering are given over to International Waters, and the salty air above, to its drier counterpart – International Airspace. A band with the breadth of twelve nautical miles hugs the terra firma coastline of bounded territory and thus this narrow strip of sea is claimed. Beyond this buffer zone and into the high seas, ownership is null. The vast oceans, seas and floating ice shelves of the world cover sixty percent of its surface, leaving the majority of the earth as a watery no-man’s land lying outside of all bounded national territories.
Traversing these vast expanses of unclaimable waters lie the unmarked highways of international maritime transport – established through the pull of ocean currents and the circulation of winds, these shipping lanes channel vessels between ports. The promise of a swift passage accompanied by trade winds and favourable currents also carries with it a threat, one that has made an uncanny return in the form of a strangely familiar character – the pirate. Funneling the maritime traffic into narrow, manageable strips of slow-moving targets, these lonely, virtually unregulated channels are the favoured dominions of these maritime renegades.
Echoing Keller Easterling’s rhetoric, the title Flags of Convenience references the practice of legitimately impersonating a nation state when traversing international waters – this practice captures the nebulous masquerading of life at sea.