Ship Registration: Law and Practice

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7.1 The Bahamas is a group of islands situated in the Atlantic Ocean extending from the east coast of Florida in the north-west towards Haiti in the south-east. The Commonwealth of the Bahamas is an independent nation within the British Commonwealth. The head of State is HM Queen Elizabeth II who is represented in the Bahamas by the Governor General. The government is comprised of a lower house known as the House of Assembly and an upper house known as the Senate. The head of government is the Prime Minister. The local currency is the Bahamian dollar (B$). 7.2 The shipping register is administered by a government agency, the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA), which operates offices in a number of major international shipping centres. In terms of dead-weight tonnage, the Bahamian flagged fleet was the seventh largest in the world and ranked third by value in 2017.1 In relation to the flag State performance in port State control inspections, the Bahamas appears fifth on the White List of the Paris MOU statistics published in 2017.2

Sources of law

7.3 The registration of vessels under the Bahamas flag is governed by the Merchant Shipping Act 1976,3 as amended (‘the Act’). Provisions of the Act are derived from the UK Merchant Shipping Acts 1894–1975. The Act is supplemented by regulations, rules and orders. The Act includes a legislative device enabling UK statutory instruments to be incorporated into Bahamian subordinate legislation, where the Bahamian Government considers it appropriate. Bahamian regulations may also reflect practice in other common law jurisdictions.

Vessel eligibility

Vessel type

7.4 Any ship may be registered as a Bahamian ship if it is wholly owned by citizens of the Bahamas or by a Bahamian company which has its principal place of business in the Bahamas, or is beneficially owned in its entirety by Bahamian citizens. Subject to

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the age limit referred to below, any ship may, regardless of the nationality of its owner, register as a Bahamian ship if it is a seagoing vessel of 1,600 net registered tons or more and is engaged in foreign-going trade. A ‘foreign-going ship’ is defined as a ship employed on voyages beyond the limits of a ‘home-trade voyage’, namely the carriage of goods or passengers solely within the Bahamas or between the Bahamas and the coast of east Florida between Jupiter in the north and Key West in the south. It will be apparent from these definitions that fishing vessels may not be registered on the Bahamas Register. A ship that is less than 1,600 net register tons may be registered with the express permission of the minister responsible for Maritime Affairs. The eligibility of yachts for registration in the Bahamas will be discussed in paragraph 7.23.

Age limits

7.5 A ship must be less than 20 years old at the time of first registration as a Bahamian ship. This age limit is calculated from the date of completion of first construction to the commencement of the year in which the registration application is made. Where an older ship has been maintained to an exceptionally high standard, such a vessel may be registered with the permission of the minister, subject to certain additional acceptance criteria being satisfied.

Bareboat charter registration

7.6 Section 3(4) of the Act provides that a foreign-registered ship which is bareboat chartered to any citizen of the Bahamas or to a Bahamian company, in addition to being registered under the law of that foreign country, may upon application be registered as a Bahamian ship for the duration of the bareboat charter and the Registrar shall notify the proper officer of that foreign country of such registration as a Bahamian ship. 7.7 The Act also provides that a Bahamian ship which is bareboat chartered to a citizen of a foreign country, or to a foreign company, may upon application to the proper officer of that foreign country, be ‘flagged-out’ to the foreign register. Upon receiving notification of bareboat registration from the foreign registry, the Bahamian Registrar shall for the period of such registration suspend the certificate of Bahamian registry and notify the foreign registry of that suspension and of any mortgage instrument which is recorded on the Bahamian Register in respect of that ship.

Trading limits

7.8 There are no trading limits other than those imposed on Bahamian home-trade ships.

Manning requirements

7.9 Manning levels and crew certification requirements for Bahamian ships can be found in Part III of the Act, the Regulations4 made thereunder, and the International

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Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers 1978, as amended in 1995 (STCW); the 2010 amendments to STCW, the associated code; and the Maritime Labour Convention 2006.5

Certificates of competency for officers and ratings

7.10 Ratings on Bahamian-registered ships are required to hold appropriate certificates and complete the training required by the STCW Convention. Training approved by another STCW party is accepted by the Bahamas. Officers serving on board Bahamian ships are required to hold Bahamian certificates of competency or endorsements for the rank to which they serve. Certificates of competency issued by a number of foreign governments are currently recognised by the Bahamas for the issue of Bahamian endorsements of equivalent grade. Endorsements issued by the Bahamian authorities will bear the same validity and last for the same duration as the foreign certificate of competency on which the endorsement is based. The countries whose certificates are currently recognised are to a large extent signatories of the STCW Convention, but do not include Honduras and St Vincent and the Grenadines. Those which are considered acceptable include the majority of those countries on the IMO STCW ‘White List’,6 but is subject to periodic review. To facilitate the issue of flag State endorsements and certification the Bahamas Maritime Authority has developed a web-based system known as BORIS (Bahamas On-line Registration Information System), which enables registered users to submit seafarers’ documents for processing and to check the validity of existing Bahamian certificates.

Nationality of crew

7.11 There are no nationality restrictions.

Document of safe manning

7.12 Every Bahamian foreign-going ship must have a minimum safe manning document issued by the Bahamas Maritime Authority. In order to obtain such a certificate, the owner or an authorised representative is required to complete an application form setting out details of the ship, her machinery and other characteristics. It will also set out the proposed manning scales, broken down by deck officers, engineers and ratings. The application and the appropriate fee must be submitted to the Bahamas Maritime Authority which will consider the owner’s application on behalf of the Government of the Bahamas. A minimum safe manning document will reflect the statutory manning scales and international guidelines. However, it should be noted that the 2000 amendments give the administration a general power to grant exemptions.

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Approved classification societies

7.13 Since December 2014 the following classification societies have been recognised7 by the Bahamas Registry for the purpose of carrying out statutory surveys, the audit and certification of Bahamian ships and the audit and certification of companies operating them.
  • American Bureau of Shipping (ABS)
  • Bureau Veritas (BV)
  • China Classification Society (CCS)
  • Croatian Register of Shipping (CRS)
  • DNV GL
  • Indian Register of Shipping (IRS)
  • Korean Register of Shipping (KR)
  • Lloyd’s Register (LR)
  • Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (Class NK-NKK)
  • Polski Rejestr Statkow (Polish Register of Shipping-PRS) Registro Italiano Navale (RINA)
  • Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS)

Radio traffic accounting authorities

7.14 The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA), the telecommunications authority in the Bahamas at the time of writing, is likely to approve any radio accounting authority listed and accepted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). In the first instance, an applicant may approach the BMA to ascertain whether a chosen accounting authority is already used by other Bahamian-registered vessels. If not, it may be necessary for the preferred accounting authority to apply for formal approval by the URCA.

Procedure for registration

Provisional registration

7.15 If an owner of a ship intends to apply for registration under the Bahamas flag, but the ship is at a foreign port, or there are outstanding surveys or other formalities, it is possible to apply for provisional registration (s.26). Provisional registration entitles a ship to all the privileges of a Bahamian ship. A ship under construction may be registered in the Bahamas as “a ship being built” (s.3(5)).

Validity of the provisional registration and extension

7.16 A provisional certificate of registry is valid, in the first instance, for six months from the date of issue and may be extended or renewed at the discretion of the registrar

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or the Director. A mortgage may be registered against a provisionally registered ship and provisional registration will not affect the validity of a registered mortgage. Provisional registration may be extended or renewed at the discretion of the Registrar.

Permanent registration

7.17 Registration applications and permanent registration of Bahamian ships may take place in Nassau, London, New York, Hong Kong or Piraeus at any offices of the Bahamas Maritime Authority located worldwide. Registration applications may also be processed in Tokyo by local BMA authorised representatives. The Registrar who undertakes the registration becomes the ‘original registrar’ and thereafter administers the ship, although the owner may subsequently request the transfer of the administration of the ship to another registrar. The owner must submit a written application (Form R102) accompanied by the following documents or items, using the prescribed Bahamian forms where appropriate:
  • (1) in the case of a company, an appointment of authorised officer(s) (Form R103);
  • (2) evidence of ownership in the form of a builder’s certificate or bill of sale, or where no transfer of ownership is concerned, a transcript of the previous registry setting out the name of the owner;
  • (3) a declaration of ownership (Form R105);
  • (4) in the case of a company, a certified true copy of the certificate of incorporation and an original certificate of good standing;
  • (5) a memorandum as to the registration of managing owners, etc. (Form R104);
  • (6) official permission from a proper officer in the country of previous registry for the transfer of registration or a statement that such permission is not required by the law of that country;
  • (7) a recent certificate from a proper officer in the country of previous registry of any mortgages or liens recorded on the register of ships of that country;
  • (8) an international tonnage certificate and a certificate of survey (or certificate of registry);
  • (9) copies of valid SOLAS, Load Line, MARPOL and all other necessary statutory certificates issued by the former flag State administration or the ship’s classification society;
  • (10) a current class certificate and class status report issued by the vessel’s classification society;
  • (11) a Bahamas ISM DOC;
  • (12) an URCA8 ship radiocommunications licence application (Form R108);
  • (13) application for a MLC 2006 DMLC Part I (Form R109);
  • (14) a radio accounting authority identity code;
  • (15) an application for a minimum safe manning certificate (Form R106);
  • (16) an application for a continuous synopsis record (CSR);
  • (17) copies of previously issued CSRs;
  • (18) blue cards for wreck removal, bunkers and oil;

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    (19) a certificate of insurance of ship-owner’s liability under regulation 4.2;
  • (20) a certificate of insurance of seafarer repatriation costs and liabilities under regulation 2.5.2;
  • (21) payment of annual and other fees.
7.18 A list of the above requirements may be found in Forms R101a, R101b and R101c. Specimen forms are provided within Appendix XI(a). It should also be noted that under s.13 of the Act, the Registrar may be permitted to waive certain statutory registration requirements, in particular, with regard to the documents mentioned under (7) and (8) above, if it is shown to the satisfaction of the minister that the owner has attempted to obtain such documents, but owing to wholly exceptional and abnormal circumstances prevailing in the country of previous registry inordinate delay has occurred for reasons beyond the control of the owner. Any such waiver will be subject to any direction as to the production of such documents as may be made by the minister. 7.19 Where the ship is over 12 years of age at the time of first registration as a Bahamian ship, a pre-registration inspection must first be carried out by a Bahamas-approved nautical inspector. On completion of registration the registrar will enter particulars of the ship and her owner(s) in the register and forward a copy of the entry to the Director as well as the original survey certificate, builder’s certificate, any previous bills of sale or condemnation by a competent court and all declarations of ownership.

Registration of mortgages and security interests

7.20 A ship that has been registered with provisional or permanent registration may be made security for a loan or other valuable consideration by means of a prescribed statutory form of mortgage. On production of such a mortgage executed by the owner, the administering Registrar will enter it on the register against the ship, subject to payment of a registration fee. Mortgages are recorded in the order in time in which they are produced to the administering Registrar and in the case of more than one mortgage over the same ship, rank in priority between each other in the order in which they are recorded.


7.21 Bahamian ships must be inspected for safety:
  • (1) before the ship is put into service with permanent registration;
  • (2) thereafter annually;
  • (3) whenever an accident occurs or a defect is discovered which affects the safety of the ship; or
  • (4) whenever important repairs or renewals are made.

Inspections are carried out by one of the many inspectors in ports around the world who are appointed to carry out inspections on behalf of the BMA. Inspections cover hull, machinery, boiler, engines and other main propulsion gear, auxiliary engines, electrical installations, radio installations in the ship and her lifeboats, life-saving equipment, fire detection and extinguishing apparatus, crew accommodation and the cleanliness of the engine room and other areas. Important information bulletins issued by the Inspections

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and Surveys Department provide guidance and advice. These may be found on the BMA website.9

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